It was as though the 2005 highway bill – which passed with the support of 98% of lawmakers and bankrupted the Highway Trust Fund – had not happened. There was almost no attempt to acknowledge the federal government’s shortcomings.
Every so often, though, someone thoroughly committed to the status quo inadvertently made the argument that the states – not the federal government – are the best sources of innovation. While critical of empowering states, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and the Chamber of Commerce agreed that the roll state governors and city mayors play are the real driving force behind innovation.
Perhaps most telling though was a discussion with the Mayor of Atlanta, Tom Reed, who discussed his good working relationship with the state’s Republican governor and senators. He made a compelling case that bipartisanship was easier to achieve at the local level; that states and localities should do things on their own, as opposed to relying on the federal government.
Mayor Reed cited two examples of Georgia taking on their own problems: an expansion of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International and a regional transportation referendum, which would impose a ten-year tax increase to support defined transportation projects with broad public support.
The local perspective was refreshing, and while he most definitely wanted his Washington handouts, Mayor Reed was aware he could not depend on them because of the dysfunction in Washington. Local communities – even large cities like Atlanta – can get left behind in the morass that is Washington. Washington is consumed with Washington, and the only way to break through the Washington bubble is to become part of it – hiring your very own lobbyist to guide you through the process.
Unfortunately, many otherwise conservative lawmakers are caught in the Washington bubble, too. When they do, they forget what it is like to be a local stakeholder, instead of a Washington insider.