Senator Pryor Seeks $12 Million Secret Lettermark for Bike Path
Documents obtained by the 339 Group reveal how Senator Mark Pryor used his Senate office to secretly lobby the U.S. Department of Transportation for millions of dollars for a tiny bicycle path outside his office in Little Rock, Arkansas.
After years of resistance, in February of 2011 the Senate Appropriations Committee reluctantly agreed to implement a ban on earmarks. As the Washington Post reported, the then Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee Daniel Inouye commented that "the handwriting is clearly on the wall. . . . Given the reality before us, it makes no sense to accept earmark requests that have no chance of being enacted into law." While the Senate Appropriations committee's reluctant acquiescence to the earmark moratorium helped keep pork-barrel projects out of appropriations bills, it didn't stop lawmakers from trying to fund pork-barrel projects. In the case of Senator Mark Pryor, it merely forced him to switch from an appropriations earmark request to an Administration lettermark request.
In October of 2011, Senator Pryor sent a letter to Ray Lahood, President Obama's Secretary of Transportation, urging the the Secretary to provide funding for the River Bluffs Segment of the Arkansas River Trail, a trail that is literally right outside of Senator Pryor's office at 500 President Clinton Avenue adjacent to the Clinton Presidential Library.
These requests are not perfunctory. Agency officials know that lawmakers want money sent back to their states, and as Senator Pryor points out on his website they have some pretty strong levers to pull to get agencies' attention. It's surely not lost on agency officials that, “Senator Pryor serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, a committee that allows him a hand in prioritizing how taxpayer dollars are spent.” Some of those dollars include the dollars that fund the salaries and expenses at the Department of Transportation.
In this case, Senator Pryor wanted the “Natural State's fair share” to go to the River Bluffs Segment of the Arkansas River Trail. The River Bluffs segment is not a mammoth construction project, in fact it comes in at just 4500 feet - less than a mile long. But it does come with a mammoth price tag, $14.5 million or $3,222 a foot. Senator Pryor asked the federal taxpayer to pony up $12 million of this project.
Senator Pryor's letter asks for funds from the TIGER III program, which as the Department of Transportation notes, was “authorized and implemented pursuant to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the “Recovery Act”). The “Recovery Act” is more commonly known as the stimulus.
It shouldn't be surprising that the price tag for this project was so high. The federal government's Davis-Bacon rules, which Senator Pryor has repeatedly voted for and which the city certified it would follow, significantly increased the cost of the project. As a Congressional Joint Economic Committee Report points out, “[i]n addition to paying an average of 22 percent above market wage rates, the Davis-Bacon Act requirements bogdown contractors with extra paperwork and compliances which can lead to unanticipated and costly delays.”
Not only did Senator Pryor secretly ask for an lettermark from the DoT, he asked for one that was intentionally wasteful and inefficient.
Senator Pryor prominently features an icon on his website for “Cut Federal Spending Idea[s].” A good place to start would be for the Senator to stop making secret $12 million requests for wasteful and unnecessary bike paths outside his office.