Study: Corrupt States Spend More on Highways

In states with higher levels of corruption, public officials spend more on construction, roads and safety services. Image: Public Administration Review via Governing
A new study found a link between highway spending and official corruption. Map: Public Administration Review via Governing

A new academic study helps explain the enduring political popularity of expensive transportation boondoggles like Birmingham’s $4.7 billion Northern Beltline and Kentucky’s $2.6 billion Ohio River Bridges.

According to research published in the journal Public Administration Review, states with higher levels of public corruption spend more money on highways and construction. The study found highway and construction projects and police programs provide the most opportunities for lawmakers to enrich themselves, according to Governing Magazine, and are positively correlated with state levels of corruption. Meanwhile, highly corrupt states also spend relatively less on health, education, and welfare — categories that were less susceptible to graft and bribery, the report found.

Public corruption for each state was ranked based on 25,000 convictions between 1976 and 2008. Overall, the authors found, the 10 most corrupt states spend $1,300 more per person annually than the average state.

  • C Monroe

    This is funny. Obviously the numbers are old, because saying Michigan is in the second least corrupt states categories have never heard of Metro Detroit. And that is both sides of the political aisle.

  • anon_coward

    for NY State, most of that money is spent on the Gowanus

    for the least corrupt states, they don’t have any transit either and everyone drives as well

  • Reinvent Albany

    Interesting that Public Administration Review equates “corruption” with the successful prosecution of corruption. And that they believe that bribery is easier in construction trades than social services or healthcare. That’s not the experience in corrupt New York , where our biggest scandals using state funds have been around Medicaid clinics (Espada), affordable housing (Vito Lopez) and social services (Rapfogel.) These may or may not be the most corrupt states but they have no real evidence to support either of their main assumptions.

  • oooBooo

    Corrupt governments spend more on _everything_ and take more of everything.

    Do you really think that the Ashland BRT project isn’t going to be loaded with cronies? Of course it is. Just like any other project.

    The more centrally planned things are, the more they are in the hands of government, the more opportunity there is for corruption. Transit has long been an area the corrupt have exploited to their own benefit. However, transit doesn’t sell to people as easily as roads. Projects need to first be sold to the public. Roads have sold easier for decades. Politicians can take a lot more from a transit project over the long haul, they just need to be able to sell them to the people.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Right. Governing only measures incompetent corruption. We have some of that, but also much more skilled thieves in the legislature.

    The most corrupt thing of all is all the retroactive pension increases with fraudulent descriptions of what they will cost. Someone should go to jail for that, but no one will.

  • How else would we know there is corruption?

  • How do you place projects on the “who’s planning it” spectrum? What’re example of a “very centrally planned” project and a “not at all centrally planned” project (and who’s planning them)?

  • Larry Shaeffer

    In PA (the most corrupt), up until recently we had one of the highest pecentages of transportation budget spent on new capacity. Not a coincidence, the state’s road are rated worst to drive on and it has tens of thousands of bridges that are “structurally deficient’

  • oooBooo

    It’s about what sells better. Politicians and their cronies will use _any_ project to transfer wealth from the taxpaying people to themselves. Roads often sell easier than transit and other things*. Military sells easily too as do things for the children, the environment, or the poor.

    The very idea that corruption and roads go together is yet another attempt to manipulate the reader. Corruption exists in the proportion to which people will tolerate government and its cost.

    *Also it’s very easy to make substandard roads which need work again a short time later.

  • Pete

    Makes sense. This is why Illinois has terrible roads despite constant construction projects. Roads are deliberately built poorly so the connected crony contractors can redo it again in a couple of years.

    The same cronyism extends to transit projects as well. Does anyone honestly believe the new Wilson Red Line station and track legitimately costs 1/4 BILLION DOLLARS? And that’s not even the final cost.

  • C Monroe

    The special FBI investigator in charge of government corruption said the metro detroit corruption made metro New Orleans corruption look like amateurism. It is not just the city but the neighboring counties and at the state level. This wasn’t really exposed until after the study years in this study. It was suspected, but not exposed.

  • R.A. Stewart

    Just what I was thinking about our roads here in the Mississippi of the North. And in light of this article, maybe it’s no coincidence that we are near the bottom on every measure of spending for people with disabilities and other social services.

  • Dan

    Actually, the fifth-most-corrupt. Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee and Illinois were all ranked as more corrupt.

  • Rich Purtell

    I think a lot of corruption can be traced to “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” http://www.slideshare.net/RichPurtell/corruption-in-construction-31439678

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

McClatchy Muckrakers Expose Seedy Underbelly of the Highway Bonanza

|
The work of a sustainable transportation reporter can be a lonely lot. But it’s a lot less lonely now that two McClatchy reporters, Curtis Tate and Greg Gordon, have taken up the mantle of exposing wasteful road expansion. With their far-reaching and well-researched three-part series, published last Sunday, Tate and Gordon brought stories of highway […]

Actually, Highway Builders, Roads Don’t Pay For Themselves

|
You’ve heard it a thousand times from the highway lobby: Roads pay for themselves through “user fees” — a.k.a. gas taxes and tolls — whereas transit is a drain on the taxpayer. They use this argument to push for new roads, instead of transit, as fiscally prudent investments. The myth of the self-financed road meets […]

The Coming Infrastructure Crisis in Texas

|
The way Texas throws around money for highways — $5.2 billion for a third outer-belt for Houston, $2 billion for Dallas’ eighth downtown highway — you would think TxDOT was running over with cheddar. This is a state, need we remind you, that “found” $350 million for a stalled highway project local leaders freely admit was designed […]

Mica: “The Focus of the Bill Is on the National Highway System”

|
First, to recap: The transportation reauthorization proposal that House Transportation Committee Chair John Mica unveiled yesterday (sans legislative text) calls for $230 billion over six years, cutting 33 percent out of current spending levels. The plan maintains the current 80/20 split between highways and transit funding, supports state infrastructure banks in lieu of a national […]