A U.S. Senate committee yesterday approved a bill that would increase Federal grants to States for highways and highway safety annually from Federal Fiscal Year 2015 through Fiscal Year 2020 — but keep funding for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and other territories at the current level.
The Environment and Public Works Committee bill, the “MAP–21 Reauthorization Act,”would authorize grants of $150,000,000 a year for Puerto Rico, although the territory may continue to receive less since it is subject to a 10% penalty for allowing 18 year olds to drink alcohol.
The bill would give the States $38,441,000,000 in Fiscal Year 2015 — which begins October 1st, $39,173,000,000 in Fiscal Year 2016, $39,987,000,000 in Fiscal Year 2017; $40,842,000,000 in Fiscal Year 2018, $41,698,000,000 in Fiscal Year 2019, and $42,594,000,000 in Fiscal Year 2020.
The increases for the States in the Federal-Aid Highways program are intended to keep up with inflation.
Puerto Ricans rejected territory status and choose statehood over nationhood by a two-to-one margin in a plebiscite held along with the November 2012 elections.
In addition to the Federal-Aid Highway grants, States receive various sums for access to Federal lands, education, safety initiatives, underserved populations’ business initiatives, and many other needs. They also benefit directly from funds given to Native American nations within States.
Puerto Rico may benefit from some of the smaller grants, particularly those directed toward minority-owned businesses, but it is not included in distributions to States — although penalties applied to States are levied on the territory. The Federal Highway Administration explains that: Puerto Rico is included in the definition of “State” for most purposes under title 23 but is not eligible to receive funds apportioned among States. Penalties that apply to States under titles 23 and 49 (e.g., the penalty related to open container requirements under 23 USC 154) continue to apply to Puerto Rico.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office recently estimated that Puerto Rico would have received $115 million a year more in the Federal-Aid Highway program in Federal Fiscal Year 2013 if it were a State.
Puerto Rico’s territory status, sometimes misleadingly called “Commonwealth” after a word in the formal name of its local government, is also taking its toll on roads paid for with insular funds. The budget for Commonwealth Fiscal Year 2015 — which begins July 1st — recently submitted to the Legislative Assembly by Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla (“Commonwealth” party) includes no funding for repaving of roads or filling in street potholes.
The Commonwealth secretary of Transportation told a local legislative hearing yesterday that the agency he heads would only have $10 million from municipalities for road maintenance in the contributing municipalities.
The lack of funding for road maintenance is a consequence of inadequate government revenues due to the failing Commonwealth economy. Puerto Rico’s economy has been in recession for seven of the last eight years, with growth of only .1% in the eighth year. Economic expansion for the previous three decades fell short of improvements in the economy of the States.