Some states explain their forfeiture of walk/bike funds by noting that these are not "real" dollars. We strongly disagree.
States Claim Walk/Bike Funds Aren't "Real"
Imagine that you were asked to plan a meeting and were given a budget with line items for food, drink, meeting space and supplies. Now, your boss tells you to cut back 10 percent of the total budget. You eliminate all drinks from the meeting to cover that 10 percent, instead of trimming from each category. When the thirsty guests ask for drinks, you tell them that you didn't actually "give up" any money for drinks from the meeting, because in fact you'd never had the funds to begin with (technically true, since the full amount was budgeted but not authorized). And further, no drinks were lost because they were never even ordered in the first place!
This comparison can help us understand the recent transportation cuts that just took place.
On August 13, 2010, the federal government issued a "rescission order," mandating that $2.2 billion in transportation funds be returned from all 50 states and the District of Columbia ("10 percent cuts" in the above analogy). In the past, many states have responded to such orders by returning vast amounts of their Transportation Enhancements (TE) and Recreational Trails program funds (eliminating drinks from the menu) instead of applying proportional cuts (trimming from each budget item). TE is the nation's largest funding source for trails, walking and bicycling.
Since states were given less than two weeks to reply, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) President Keith Laughlin sent a letter with background information to the governor and transportation director of each state, encouraging no more than proportional cuts to TE and other active transportation programs.
Yet when states are pressed that important TE funds should not be disproportionately targeted, many respond that these are not "real" funds ("In truth, I never had the money for drinks!").
That reasoning sounds disingenuous to us! If states were truly intent on prioritizing active transportation, then they would seek to preserve their unspent trail, walking and biking funds and apply them to future projects. ("If you really cared about your guests, you would have provided something to drink!")
Further, some states claim that substantial TE rescissions don't impact actual projects, since there were none ready in their queues (Your drinks weren't lost... you never had any in the first place!). This may reflect the state's failure to maintain a complete and up-to-date list of trail, walking and bicycling projects rather than a lack of strong projects in need of construction resources. Therefore, advocates should ensure their state transportation departments are aware of and prioritize active transportation projects. (Tell your meeting host that you'll be showing up thirsty!)
As soon as we receive the results of this recent rescission order, we will notify you so you'll know exactly how much trail, walking and bicycling money your state forfeited and how it compares to proportional forfeitures. Rest assured that RTC will continue fighting for trail, walking and bicycling projects around the country, as we have with this and past rounds of rescissions.
Confusing, right? But one thing isn't: We need more trails, walking and bicycling in our communities.