, a bicycling advocacy and lobbying organization declared victory last Friday when Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) withdrew a proposal to eliminate dedicated funding for the Transportation Enhancements Program.

Transportation Enhancements serve as a chief source of federal funding for bicycle related projects. According to the National Transportation Enhancements Clearinghouse, “Transportation Enhancements (TE) projects are federally subsidized, community-based projects that expand travel choices and enhance the transportation experience by improving the cultural, historic, aesthetic and environmental aspects of our transportation infrastructure.  For example, Transportation Enhancements can include safe bicycle and pedestrian facilities, scenic routes, beautification, and other investments that increase recreation opportunity and access.” claimed responsibility for influencing Coburn to withdraw his proposal.

“ supporters and our advocacy partners influenced this outcome by sending close to 50,000 emails and making thousands of phone calls to their U.S. Senators in just 48 hours.”

In the meantime, 80,000 commuters per day who normally use the Sherman Minton Bridge continue to seek out alternative routes because officials shut down an actual real-live interstate. And the major bridge will likely remain shut down for months. Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) is running around screaming about how this proves we need more federal dollars for infrastructure.

“And now, today, we have a gap in that interstate highway system, and it happens to be in my community,” he said. “So when the President speaks of infrastructure deterioration throughout the country and the thousands and thousands of bridges that need to be repaired, he didn’t know the next day one would become more than an abstract theory, but would become reality.”

One might ask the question, why in the hell are we spending money on bicycle projects when a major I-64 bridge remains completely shut down due to cracks in the structural steel. Perhaps if we used transportation dollars for actual transportation needs instead of throwing money at nice little community pet projects, we’d have the money to fix the thousands and thousands of  broken bridges.

Priorities people. Priorities.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not arguing that bike paths don’t enhance a community. I like bike paths. I like bikes. I even like a few bikers. But when the money runs out, we cut luxuries out of budgets, and I don’t think many people would argue that bike paths are essential to the functioning of our society.

But there is actually a more relevant question here: where does the Constitution grant the federal government the power to fund bicycle projects?

Oh yeah, nowhere.

OK, I just heard you in the back of the room. The General Welfare clause.  But really, how “general” is the use of bicycles?

According to statistics compiled by the League of American Bicyclists, my home town of Lexington, Ky. had 1,268 bicycle commuters in 2009. With a population of 296,545, that comes to a whopping .004 percent of Lexingtonians. Not very general, if you ask me.

And that was, after all, the actual purpose of the General Welfare Clause. The framers assured the ratifiers that the clause wasn’t meant as a grant of power for Congress to do whatever it pleases, but was simply a limit on the taxing power to ensure it wasn’t used for partisan or regional purposes. You know, for things like “community-based projects.” When supporters of such federal spending scream General Welfare, they actually prove the unconstitutionality of their own policy.

And James Madison made clear; the General Welfare Clause grants no additional powers.

“With respect to the two words ‘general welfare,’ I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators.” 

In other words, General Welfare remains connected to the enumerated powers in Article 1 Sec. 8.

Go ahead, read them. I’ll wait. You won’t find any mention of  a power to fund bicycle projects.

In fact, you won’t find federal power granted to do most of what the federal government does. Things like bike projects are, “objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement and prosperity of the State,” and should remain a function of state and local governments.

Special interests can make a lot of noise, and as they say, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. It’s high time those of us who believe our so-called leaders should actually follow the Constitution start raising a ruckus.

Mike Maharrey

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