WASHINGTON, D.C. | May 13, 2009 -
Mr. Chair, there is a trend here that troubles me.
Over the past few months, the federal government has stepped in to take control of more and more industries in America.
So far, these have included: the banking industry … the auto industry … and the credit industry.
And there’s talk of the federal government becoming even more involved in other areas, too. These include the health care industry … and possibly the student loan industry.
Today, we are considering H.R. 2187, the 21st Century Green High-Performing Public School Facilities Act. This is a bill that would get the federal government involved in yet one more industry: school construction.
Little by little, the federal government is becoming more and more involved in people’s lives than ever before.
And that’s just the start of this bill’s problems.
First, there’s the cost. Based on Congressional Budget Office estimates, it is predicted that this bill will cost taxpayers $40 billion.
Forty billion dollars may not seem like much in these days of multi-billion dollar bailouts and trillion dollar federal budgets.
But all of this new spending pushes our country further into debt. This week, the Obama administration estimated that the United States has a deficit of $1.84 trillion this year alone. The national debt is about $11 trillion – and growing, thanks to bills like this one.
We need to get the federal budget under control.
If we don’t, the children we’re trying to help today will spend the rest of their lives paying off our debts and deficits – instead of paying for their own dreams and destinies.
But this bill has other costs that go far beyond a balance sheet.
If passed, this bill could divert important funding from the Title I program for disadvantaged students and from those programs funded under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA.
This is a serious blow, especially after the Obama administration’s budget failed to increase support for these programs. In fact, under the administration’s budget, IDEA is flat-funded, keeping the federal share of excess costs at just 17 percent.
And worse still, the Title I basic grant is actually cut by $1.5 billion. The administration is redirecting those funds elsewhere, leaving 1,038 school districts – those that receive funds only under the basic grant – with less money next year than they have this year.
Republicans think we should meet our existing commitments to these two vital programs and maintain the federal focus on programs that improve student achievement.
States and local communities – not federal bureaucrats – have the primary responsibility to set public policy over education. Federal law should reflect that.
And here’s another cost problem. Like other federal construction projects, this new program carries the burden of Davis-Bacon wage mandates from the Depression era.
Davis-Bacon has been shown to drive up the cost of school construction projects between 22 and 26 percent when compared to similar projects completed under market conditions. That’s money that could otherwise go toward putting additional teachers in the classroom.
The Labor Department’s own Inspector General has found these wage requirements to be flawed. They shortchange either taxpayers, workers – or both.
That’s not all. These wage mandates create regulatory hurdles that make it hard for smaller contractors – many owned by minorities or women – to win federal contracts.
Mr. Chair, I cannot support this bill.
I know that my friends and colleagues across the aisle are sincere in their efforts to improve the schools.
I know there is a need for school construction and renovation.
And I also know that this must continue to be dealt with at the state and local level, where more than $144 billion has been spent to build, repair, and renovate schools over the last seven years.
This bill creates more problems than it solves. It costs too much. It borrows too much. And it controls too much.
That troubles me and, I hope, other members of this chamber. I urge a “no” vote on this bill.
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