Oh wait, that's just highway pork. This should come as no surprise. The term "Pork Barrel" originated 150 years ago to refer to highway spending 200 years ago based more on politics than need. I'm not really against the nearly $300 billion highway bill. I recognize that it costs a lot of money to maintain 46,000 miles of interstate highway, plus 115,000 miles of US highways. I used to be extremely pro-highway. When I first moved to Atlanta, I was fascinated by how the interstate highways shaped this city, which grew around them like vines or weeds after they were built in the 1960's and 1970's. I hoped for more, like the ill-fated outer perimeter. Now I'm a little wiser, having lived here for some time and recognizing how sprawl has damaged Atlanta and how centralized cities, though hurt by White Flight in the 70's, are much healthier.
Anyway, my point is I'm not against the highway bill per se. I'm a little disappointed, but not shocked, at the $24 billion in special projects allocated. What's interesting is how the Republicans' true colors are emerging. For years, the Right has pilloried the Democrats as "Tax and Spend". Vote Republican, they said, if you think government should be responsible with your money. I know $24 billion at the same time seems like a lot of money and is also one of those vague numbers thrown about. I mean, my mortgage is barely 4-digits - how can I comprehend financing at the national level?
In 1998, Bill Clinton almost vetoed a $218 billion highway bill because it contained $7 billion of "special projects". Almost vetoed by a Democrat for being too wasteful! Today, "special projects" amount to almost 3 times as much! And while our Republican President says he wishes it were less, it sails through his office more smoothly than a used car salesman at an Alzheimers nursing home. And where is this money going? Ashamedly, some of the pork is going to Blue states. But I can understand that Democratic leaders aren't willing to impoverish their people on principle while paying for Red-Staters' pork. The most egregious offense? A $231 million bridge in Alaska which will be named, by law, the "Don Young Way". Don Young is the Republican House Transportation Committee Chairman. (In 1998, Republican Committee Chairman Bud Shuster wrote the Bud Shuster Byway or I-99 into law in his home state.) Now, call me crazy, but isn't the definition of corruption using public office to profit personally? I mean, I know Don Young isn't personally charging tolls on this bridge, but I'd call writing a law to name a bridge after yourself is pretty close. How much money would it cost me to do the same? What's the monetary value of getting a bridge named after you? At UCLA, it costs $10 million to get your name on a building. Keep in mind that it wasn't the grateful voters or even the state legislators that were so proud of Young that they named the bridge for him. Young named the quarter-billion dollar bridge for himself.
It just goes to show that at the very least, Republicans like to spend money at least as much as or more than Democrats. All those years they spent telling voters that it was Dems who were going to steal their money, and all along the fox was already in the henhouse. I wonder what all those non-religious, fiscally conservative Republicans are thinking right now. I wonder what they think they've gained. Do they even exist anymore? Are there even Republicans who believe in a balanced budget anymore? $24 billion is a lot of money. Cutting that out of the budget would help Bush balance it better than cutting out the $1.2 billion that Amtrak gets. A lot more people ride Amtrak than will drive over the $223 million dollar bridge (another one, not the Don Young Way) in Alaska going to an island with 50 inhabitants. That works out to.... $4.46 million per person. They have an airport there - we could buy each person their own Cessna for less! (Actually, we could buy them each 22 high-end Cessna Skyplanes) Anyway, for the rest of us 279,999,950 Americans, just consider the "special projects" $85 well-spent. If you ever visit Alaska.