Reports

Road Work Ahead Holding Government Accountable for Fixing America's Crumbling Roads and Bridges

Over the last 50 years, America has built roads and bridges at a pace and scale that dwarfs most of the rest of the world. We’ve built a national highway network like no other, with more than 45,000 miles of interstate highway and 575,000 highway bridges. 

Now, much of that system is showing its age – and as maintenance needs continue to grow, we are falling farther behind. Across the nation, drivers face more than 90,000 miles of crumbling highways and more than 70,000 structurally deficient bridges. Neglected maintenance of roads and bridges acts as a constant drain on our economy and a scourge on our quality of life. Rough and rutted roads cause accidents, damage vehicles, trigger traffic jams that lead to countless hours of delay, and waste money Americans need for other expenses. On some occasions – such as the 2007 collapse of the I-35 bridge connecting Minneapolis – it can lead to profound tragedy.

Why are America’s roads and bridges in such terrible shape? And who or what is to blame? 

The deterioration of our roads and bridges is no accident. Rather, it is the direct result of countless policy decisions that put other considerations ahead of the pressing need to preserve our investment in the highway system. Political forces often undermine a strong commitment to maintenance: Members of Congress, state legislators and local politicians thrive on ribbon-cuttings. Powerful special interests push for new and bigger highways. Meanwhile, federal and state policies – which should provide strong guidance in the wise use of taxpayer dollars – often fail to achieve the proper balance between building new infrastructure and taking care of what we already have built.

To fix our roads and bridges, America first must fix our transportation policies. To counteract the tendencies to neglect repair and maintenance, we must adopt strong “fix-it first” rules that give priority to maintenance of our existing roads and bridges, set national goals for the condition of our transportation system, and hold state governments accountable for achieving results.

This report describes how America’s roads and bridges are in disrepair, bringing together a wide variety of statistics and sources with state-by-state analysis. It shows how special interest pressure tilts the playing field toward the construction of new and ever-wider highways at the expense of repair and maintenance. U.S. transportation policy fails to properly emphasize highway and bridge maintenance, with federal transportation policies allocating vast amounts of money to the states with little direction and no accountability, and with Congressional earmarks further tilting spending away from maintenance. State transportation funding policies are often similarly short-sighted, focusing on the creation of politically popular new highways rather than maintaining existing roads and bridges.

Spending more money on transportation won’t fix America’s roads and bridges without a top-to-bottom shift in funding priorities and policies. The report’s recommendations include ways to:

· Make highway and bridge maintenance a national priority.

· Reorganize federal highway programs to focus exclusively on either maintenance or new construction.

· Require states receiving federal aid to plan for future maintenance before building new roads.

· Measure performance the right way.

· Reward states for good performance on national objectives.

· Create fix-it-first policies in the states as well

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble In Toyland

In 2008, Congress responded to an unprecedented wave of recalls of toys and other children’s products by passing the first major overhaul of the Consumer Product Safety Commission since it was established during the Nixon Administration. By passing the landmark Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) in August 2008,1 Congress not only expanded the agency’s budget, it also gave the CPSC more tools to hold corporate wrongdoers accountable and speed recalls, moved toward banning toxic lead and phthalates except in trace amounts, and greatly improved import surveillance.

The recall of 45 million toys and other children’s products in 2007 and continued recalls in 2008 reminded Americans that no government agency tests toys before they are put on the shelves.

Specifically, the wave of recalls focused attention on the fact that the agency charged with protecting Americans from unsafe products—the Consumer Product Safety Commission—is a little agency with a very big job to do.

The CPSIA strengthened the CPSC and established tough new protections against toxic chemicals like lead and phthalates. New and expanded leadership at the CPSC has begun to put these protections into effect.

But there is no magic wand to rehabilitate the tattered product safety net. Considering the 15,000 products under its regulation, the CPSC remains a very small agency with a very big job to do. Tough new bans on lead and phthalates are a good step in the right direction, but there are tens of thousands of toxic chemicals in our children’s lives. We continue to learn more about the relationship of toxic chemicals to chronic diseases. More must be done to protect our families from toxic chemicals.

The 2009 Trouble in Toyland report is the 24th annual Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) survey of toy safety. This report provides safety guidelines for parents when purchasing toys for small children and provides examples of toys currently on store shelves that may pose potential safety hazards.

In researching the report, we visited numerous national chain toy stores and other retailers in September and October 2009 to identify potentially dangerous toys. We analyzed CPSC notices of recalls and other regulatory actions to identify trends in toy safety. This year, we focused on three categories of toy hazards: toys that may pose choking hazards, toys that are excessively loud, and toys that contain the toxic chemicals lead and phthalates.

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Greasing The Wheels

In the wake of the Minnesota I-35 bridge collapse there was enormous public outcry and recognition of the need to repair our crumbling infrastructure. Americans expected public officials to respond to the tragedy with a large scale effort to address the nearly 73,000 structurally deficient bridges in this country. The findings in this report suggest that did not happen.
As Congress prepares a new multi-year, multibillion dollar transportation bill, we explored the intersection of money and politics and recent transportation funding decisions.
We analyzed two data sets and new information that shine light on the influence of campaign giving on transportation funding decisions at the state and federal level. First the report examines, on a state-by-state basis, how much money was contributed to both federal and state campaigns by highway interests, defined as those from the development, automobile, transportation, and construction sectors. Then, the report
looks at the number and dollar amounts of transportation earmarks from the 2008 federal transportation appropriations bill that were funded in each state to highlight the priorities of members of Congress.

Key findings:
• In 2008 there were 704 earmarked “member projects,” in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, totaling more than a half a billion dollars in federal-aid highway projects on the annual transportation appropriations bill.
• Members of Congress earmarked funds in the 2008 appropriations bill for just 74 bridge repair projects. Only slightly more than 10 percent of the highway funds allocated for “member projects” in that year’s appropriations bill went to bridge repair or restoration.1
• At the same time, in 2008, highway interests gave over 133 million dollars to candidates for both federal and state office. The findings suggest that elected officials often overlook preventative maintenance projects, especially when new capacity projects are encouraged by campaign contributions.

Recommendations:
We recommend reform of current campaign finance policy in order to ensure that the public interest is protected and that transportation decisions are made based on smart policy rather than politics.
• Congress should move to a voluntary system of publicly financing our elections that is focused on incentivizing small dollar donors and would raise the voices of individuals, keep elections competitive, and reduce the special access and influence of large corporate donors.
• Congress should spend taxpayers' money more wisely by focusing transportation dollars on solving our nation's biggest problems. Federal transportation money should be spent only on projects that produce real results over the long haul - for example, by reducing our dependence on oil, curbing global warming pollution, alleviating congestion, improving safety, and supporting healthy, sustainable communities.

Excluding emergency relief funding that was appropriated for the 1-35W bridge after the collapse.

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Going Smoke-Free

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has concluded there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke, the third leading cause of preventable death in America.

To reduce exposure to secondhand smoke, thousands of municipalities in all 50 states have enacted smoke-free workplace policies. In 2005, the state of Georgia joined their ranks with the passage of the Smokefree Air Act. However, Georgia’s law allows smoking to continue in select locations,
including bars and restaurants that do not serve minors under 18. As a result, many workers and citizens in Atlanta and
elsewhere in Georgia still face the dangerous health threat of secondhand smoke. 

Legislators exempted bars and restaurants primarily because of concerns that smoking restrictions would drive customers away. However, studies in hundreds of locations around the country have found that these fears are simply unfounded. Smoke-free laws have no negative effect on business at bars and restaurants—and in some cases even help.

Atlanta should join the ranks of American cities with strong ordinances restricting smoking in all places of employment, including bars and restaurants. A strong smoke-free workplace ordinance will safeguard the health of Atlanta’s workers and
public, without harming local businesses.

Scientific studies consistently demonstrate that bars and restaurants are unharmed by the implementation of smoke-free workplace ordinances.
• 100 percent of well-designed, peer-reviewed studies of smoke-free workplace policies published between 1989 and
2005 show that going smoke-free has no negative impact on sales or employment in the hospitality industry. In a
number of cases, business performance improved after the transition to a smoke-free environment.

Restricting smoking at bars and restaurants does not reduce revenue or force closures.
• El Paso, Texas, required restaurants, bars and mixed-beverage establishments to become smoke-free in 2002. In a statistical analysis that controlled for inflation and seasonal variability,
Going Smoke-Free the U.S. Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention detected no change in revenues in the following year.
• Florida enacted a state-wide smoke-free workplace law in 2002. In the following months, Dr. Chifeng Dai at the University of Florida documented a 7.4 percent increase in gross sales among restaurants and catering services, after accounting for changes in population, income and the economy.

Smoke-free policies do not adversely affect employment in bars or restaurants.
• After Florida’s 2002 smoke-free law, a University of Florida study showed that state-wide hospitality employment climbed 4.5 percent after controlling for population, income growth, inflation, underlying economic conditions and for seasonal business variation.
• New York City reported a gain of more than 10,000 restaurant and bar jobs in 2003, the year after its smoke-free law went into effect.
• After restricting smoking in bars and restaurants in 2004, cities in Kentucky and Massachusetts reported no change to restaurant and bar employment.

Local smoke-free regulations do not hurt local businesses.
• Workers in restaurants and bars in Lexington, Kentucky—where officials restricted workplace smoking in 2004—earned just as much pay after going smoke-free as before. Employment levels stayed consistent, and most customers did not travel to do business in other areas of Kentucky without
smoke-free policies.
• Wisconsin’s Dane County, home to the state capital of Madison, enacted a smoke-free ordinance in 1992, at a time
when the majority of the state permitted workplace smoking. Over the next five years, tax receipts from restaurants in Dane County increased faster than the state average.

Smoke-free policies save money for businesses.
• Business owners who permit smoking in the workplace bear elevated health care and worker’s compensation costs. Asthma related to secondhand smoke alone costs the United States $773 million each year in direct medical expenses— costs borne in part by business owners.

Studies that claim smoke-free ordinances harm business are likely to suffer from poor design or conflicts of interest.
• Dr. Michelle Scollo at the VicHealth Centre for Tobacco Control in Australia reviewed all published studies on the economic impact of smoke-free policies in 2003 and again in 2005. She found that studies claiming negative impacts were 20 times more likely to have no peer-review than studies showing positive or neutral economic impact. These studies tended to use subjective, anecdotal and scientifically questionable measurements to reach their conclusions.
• Moreover, 100 percent of studies claiming negative impact were funded by groups with ties to the tobacco industry, which has a clear financial stake against smoking restrictions.

Atlanta should adopt a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance for all places of employment, including bars and restaurants.
• According to the U.S. Surgeon General’s office, eliminating smoking from the workplace “is the only effective way to ensure that exposures are not occurring.”
• While the Georgia Smokefree Air Act allows smoking to continue in select workplaces, it does not prevent local governments from enacting stronger smoke-free policies.
• Atlanta should follow the lead of other major cities across the U.S., including Houston, Miami, New York, Baltimore and Chicago, by enacting a comprehensive smoke-free workplace ordinance.
• The ordinance should apply to areas exempted under the 2005 Georgia Smokefree Air Act, including bars and restaurants that do not serve or employ people under 18 years of age (even those with separate ventilation systems), outdoor areas of employment, long-term care facilities, all hotel rooms, and areas of the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
 

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Health Care

The Small Business Dilemma

When it comes to health care, American small business owners are getting a raw deal.  While the current insurance marketplace offers some options to larger employers, it too often leaves small business owners on the outside looking in. They face unpredictable changes in costs, and far too often they are forced to choose between covering employees and the very survival of their businesses.

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