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TIGER III Grants Disproportionally Awarded to Democratic Congressional Districts

Baruch Feigenbaum
December 28, 2011, 3:07pm

When the House of Representatives was controlled by Democrats, during the TIGER I and TIGER II award processes, Democrats received 73% of the funding in TIGER I Grants, 76% of the funding in TIGER II Capital Grants and 61% of the funding in TIGER II Planning Grants. In the 111th Congress (2009-2010), Democrats controlled 59% of the seats.

Typically, the party in control of Congress receives a disproportionately high share of federal government funding. This does not necessarily indicate administration bias. Most experts believed that when Republicans won back control of the House of Representatives, the numbers would change. 

However, in the 112th Congress, Republicans control 56% of the seats in the House of Representatives yet they have received only 35% of the grants. In absolute monetary terms, districts represented by Republicans have performed worse. Projects in districts represented by Democrats have received 69% of the total funds; projects in districts represented by Republicans have received 27% of the total funds; projects in multi-districts represented equally by Democrats and Republicans have received 4% of the total funds. Table one below compares the four grant processes: TIGER I, TIGER II Capital, TIGER II Planning, and TIGER III. 

Table 1--TIGER Grants awarded to Districts Represented by Democrats and Republicans

Funding Round (Year)

Congressional Representation of Places that Received TIGER Grants

Number of Projects

Percentage of Projects

TIGER I (2009)

Over 60% Dem

37

73%

Between 40-60% Dem

2

4%

Over 60% Rep

12

24%

TIGER II Capital (2010)

Over 60% Dem

32

76%

Between 40-60% Dem

3

7%

Over 60% Rep

7

17%

TIGER II Planning (2010)

Over 60% Dem

20

61%

Between 40-60% Dem

4

12%

Over 60% Rep

9

27%

TIGER III (2011)

Over 60% Dem

28

61%

Between 40-60% Dem

2

4%

Over 60% Rep

16

35% 

Despite gaining 63 seats and the majority in the House of Representatives, Republican districts still receive only about a third of the total funding amount. There are several possible reasons.

Reason one: Democratic constituencies favor stimulus style spending. Cities and counties that applied for the grants are represented by Democrats. However, while Democrats may favor stimulus spending, round one TIGER grant data shows districts represented by Republicans applied for the same number of grants as districts represented by Democrats. The percentages should be similar in the TIGER II Capital, TIGER II Planning, and TIGER III Grants; USDOT will not release the lists of TIGER II and TIGER III applicants, so that cannot be determined.

Reason two: Democrats disproportionately represent urban areas which may have a higher need for infrastructure improvements than suburban or rural areas. However, the Obama Administration went out of its way to award grants to rural areas, which are disproportionately Republican. Even if more districts represented by Democrats applied for the grants, the Administration’s funding priorities should favor districts represented by Republicans. In TIGER III, 20 of the 46 grant winners were rural locations.

Reason three: Republicans control the House, but Democrats control the Senate. A divided Congress limits the effect of either body. This theory would hold if the grants were awarded equally but since districts represented by Democrats received 2/3 of the funding, it does not hold. Additionally, Republicans have a 50 seat lead in the House while Democrats have a two-seat lead in the Senate. (The two Independents typically but not always vote with the Democrats.)

None of these reasons accurately explain the discrepancy between representation and funding. Awarding discretionary grants is challenging. Certain cities or states may have more compelling projects than other cities or states. It is possible that a large number of these grants may be in districts represented by Democrats. But it seems mathematically unfeasible and perhaps impossible that in all four TIGER Grants a substantially higher percentage of projects would be funded in districts represented by Democrats than in districts represented by Republicans. More data from DOT could clear up this murkiness, however DOT will not release the data because they are worried applicants may game the system. 

A bigger problem than gaming the system is determining whether DOT is awarding grants preferentially for political reasons. While I cannot prove this is the administration’s intent, it certainly looks that way.


Baruch Feigenbaum is Transportation Policy Analyst


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