Want a glimpse into the essence of pork-barrel funding and a clue to the source of chronic federal budget deficits? Exhibit No. 1: The $286 billion, six-year federal transportation bill Congress recently passed.
Among legitimate projects, such as repairing interstate expressways, it also contains approximately 6,371 special projects earmarked for and by individual legislators, many non-highway and non-rapid transit projects. According to The Associated Press, that’s up from just two such projects under President Eisenhower, 152 under Ronald Reagan, and 1,950 under President Clinton.
Consider some distortions and waste in this political monstrosity.
In Alaska, for example, the transportation bill funds what may be history’s worst pork project, the infamous “bridge to nowhere” in Ketchikan. “Rising 200 feet above water and almost as long as the Golden Gate on San Francisco Bay, the bridge will link this tourist-oriented town at the southern tip of the state to an island with about 50 inhabitants and an airport with fewer than 10 flights a day,” as the Houston Chronicle described the bridge.
The cost of the bridge: $223 million. Overall, Alaska got $649.84 per person.
Is it just a coincidence that the chairman of the House Transportation Committee is Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska?
Political waste and discrepancies are even glaring within states. California’s Kern County got $722 million, “nearly $1,000 per resident,” according to news reports.
It must also be just a coincidence that Kern County’s congressman is Bill Thomas, Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. But Rep. Thomas had an excuse. “Bakersfield is one of California’s fastest-growing cities,” he said in a statement. “Our main roads simply cannot accommodate today’s needs, let alone tomorrow’s growth.”
But almost every community in the country can make a similar pleading.
The pork-barrel transportation bill shows just how much Republicans, who won control of the whole Congress after the November 1994 election by vowing to cut government, have betrayed their principles and the people they represent.
The solution to such Godzilla-sized pork is not to try to find a more equitable, less political way to distribute the money, but to end it.
The interstate highway system is finished. The federal government need no longer be involved in transportation.
Essential infrastructure projects ought to be funded locally. Passing money to Washington to have it redistributed according to political whim and power is wasteful and distasteful.
All federal transportation funding should be canceled.