I would have to say, yes, it is certainly Federal overreach to force a state to set priorities based not on what is best for the state, but based on what is best for the USA as a whole. If it is a project that is a primary benefit for the USA as a whole, the Feds should be paying for it. They could very easily say that "we are building an expanded customs/immigration post for trucks, and we need to include the BSIF as part of that project", then just combine the projects. I also believe that the Feds should be the ones conducting the inspections as well. State officials should be worrying about trucks entering from other states, which they know are up to basic US Standards...they are just checking to ensure that all their Texas destination/transit paperwork is in order and that it meets Texas weight limits. The Feds are the ones who invited Mexican trucks into the USA, which leads to a whole host of other issues (paperwork in Spanish, a lot of other things that have to be checked, higher percentage of trucks that have to be checked because of the greater likelihood of third-world style equipment ending up on our side of the border), so they should be the ones with the burden of ensuring that the truck meets its very first safety inspection upon entry to our country.
In practice I suspect BSIFs will be staffed by a mixture of state and federal personnel. But the argument outlined above presupposes that the benefits of cross-border trade accrue primarily outside the border states. Is this necessarily the case? If a state decides to enter into a more localized trading relationship (e.g. between Arizona and Sonora) and the traffic associated with that is routed through wholly federally owned, funded, and operated BSIFs, isn't that a subsidy from the rest of us to Arizona? If traffic through BSIFs serves a mixture of local (border region only) and interregional trade relationships, how do you allocate the costs of building and running it?
These joint-cost situations are tricky. There is the potential for any funding split to wind up "unfair" depending on how actual usage is split.
Consider it also from the state DOT's point of view. It is not reasonable to give the federal government a mandate to do something without also giving the appropriate federal agency (in this case, the General Services Administration) the powers to carry it out. Do you really want to work around the GSA as you plan improvements near the border? The advantage of having state DOTs in charge of planning and building BSIFs (even if they are paid for by some other entity, like the federal government) is that they can assure they don't interfere with their own highway plans.
There is some precedent for this. Currently US Customs enforces Texas alcohol laws by enforcing a different set of rules at Texas southern border ports of entry than they do in other states. Supposedly Texas laws are more strict and you have to pay tax to import alcohol, so although Texas sells you the stickers you need to put on the bottle to import it, its ultimately US Customs that checks to ensure the stickers are there and detects if you are carrying any alcohol that needs to be taxed.
Yes, but that is how Customs operates at all ports of entry to the US--not just on the land borders but also at airports. Customs collects both state and federal taxes and duties because the port of entry is not just the entry point for the US as a whole, but also for the state in which it is located.
But back to the original topic. The US has been getting away from earmarks (i.e. you have to do as we say or you can't have the money) and going towards merit-based transportation funding (TIGER grants, you demonstrate why your project provides benefit to the state/country/etc. and we'll pay for it), so that does come across as earmark-like and heavy handed to force a state to allocate its funding a certain way to make way for a treaty that the state did not directly enter into.
But this gets away from the larger issue: not allowing Mexican trucks into this country in accord with our treaty commitment. Regardless of whether it is fair for the border states to be asked to contribute to the cost of BSIFs, or to bear the uncertainties of a grant process in order to obtain federal funding to build them, the lack of inspection capacity has been used as an alibi for not letting Mexican trucks into the US. The structure of the funding process virtually guarantees the persistence of this alibi.
BTW, by "earmark" I assume you are referring to formula funding, and not the set-asides (normally called "earmarks") in transportation reauthorization bills. There may be a general trend toward replacing formula funding with program grants along the lines of TIGER, but at this point I think it is too early to tell, not least because the uncertainty associated with program grants dilutes their ability to stimulate states to allocate transportation funding as social-surplus maximizers.
I believe it would eventually come to be seen as a type of federal overreach to make funding allocations contingent on such grant programs because they involve the states in more effort and uncertainty than the existing system of funding according to program eligibility.
I'm sure if Texas and other southern border states saw significant advantage to their state (i.e. the type advantages that could easily be described in a TIGER grant application), then they would be willing to pony up money for the project. Otherwise, I'd say if the state doesn't want it, or sees benefit mostly going to other states and not to their state, then they would want the Feds to pay for it all or it won't get built. That is essentially what happened with I-287 in northern NJ...NJDOT said we don't want it, we won't pay for it, and the Feds said "but its an important missing link in the overall US interstate system"....so NJDOT said to the Feds "you pay for it and we'll do the project, otherwise thanks, but no thanks!" So the Feds paid 100% of the cost.
Yup, yup, yup. That is more or less what happened in the early noughties. Feds pointed at the border states and said: "They don't have enough inspection capacity." Border states pointed at the feds and said: "To inspect out-of-country traffic? You need to give us more money." Feds said to border states: "OK. You can apply for the money. We'll allocate a measly amount each year and you can fall on it like a pack of wild dogs on a scrap of bacon." Delay, delay, delay. Mexicans say to the US collectively: "Hombres, you need to get your act together. You said you'd let our trucks in X years ago, and we're still waiting." US says to the Mexicans (after much litigation): "OK, we'll buy you guys off." (That is essentially what $2 billion in trade forgone because of punitive tariffs means.)
So my point stands, since these inspection facilities are for the overall good of America, and because the southern border states will be stuck with a disproportionate burden of "being the first state responsible for intercepting an unsafe Mexican truck bound for any other US State or Canada", then the US government should pony up the money for the entire project. Texas might benefit from cheap delivery of goods from Mexico, but so will Virginia, Georgia, Michigan, etc. An unsafe truck bound for any of those states will be inspected for the first time on entry in....Texas. Not Georgia, not Virginia, not Michigan. So it would be unfair for those states to only get benefits without sharing the cost of the inspection facilities.
Again, this assumes that the majority of the benefits of trade will be dispersed well outside the border states, which is not necessarily the case. There may very well be wide dispersion of benefits but that can co-exist with strong local effects.
Mr. Winkler: you seem to know a lot about this topic. Do you know what plans are for collection of fuel taxes from Mexican trucks (no Mexican jurisdiction is part of the IFTA)?
No, not really. I understand that there has been consideration of the practicalities of letting Mexican states into the IFTA but I don't know what, if anything, has happened in that direction.
Also, I wonder about DMV-type enforcement and how that would work...seeing as law enforcement databases for the US and Canada are well linked...i.e. a Virginia State Police Officer can very easily run plates/drivers licenses for someone from Ontario, but I wonder what they would do if they saw a Nuevo Leon license plate?
I don't think the linkage and availability of data is (yet) all that good. In principle, any contact with authority--even stepping into the DMV to renew your driver's license--can be integrated into a database linked to your driving license and the full dossier can be sent out to the state trooper who runs your license during a traffic stop. I have been told, however, that a lot of the information is suppressed, just to prevent the officer on the scene from being unduly influenced by the licenseholder's past driving history. For example, if I were stopped in New Jersey on my Kansas license, the NJ officer would apparently be able to tell whether my license was still valid (i.e., not suspended), but not whether I had been issued a ticket previously.
There have been attempts to update reporting codes to reflect the existence of Mexican states within the NAFTA area. For example, at one point FMCSA had a rather bizarre list of two-letter abbreviations for Mexican states, which were intended to correspond to the two-letter abbreviations for American states and Canadian provinces. These codes would have been almost impossible to remember because they would have been used essentially only for FMCSA purposes--not for mailing, etc.--and they were so different from the usual Mexican state abbreviations (Ags., Qro., Zac., etc.). Eventually it was decided that the "state" field in the relevant forms could be of variable width (not just two letters) and the FMCSA abbreviations have disappeared from circulation. (I have tried to find them again through the Web Archive without success.) In the case of license plate numbers, it is also less important to have the Mexican state than it is to have the US state or Canadian province because the Mexican license plate numbering scheme is nationwide.
I actually think it would be cool to see Mexican license plates on US roads more often...I've only really seen them within 50 miles of the southern border with the exception of one time I saw a Nuevo Leon plated vehicle in Charlottesville, VA.
It is not too difficult to find Chihuahua plates in New Mexico well north of the border zone. I found a surprising number in the NMDOT parking lot just off Cerrillos Road in Santa Fe the last time I visited. It is also fun to play "I spy" American license plates south of the border--the last time I was in Mexico I saw a surprising number of Kansas license plates but I think I may have been the only gringo