Transportation Budget and Congressional Pork

Many headlines proclaimed Senate adds one billion dollars for bridges to Transportation bill. Only a few short weeks after the Minneapolis I-35 bridge collapse, sounds reasonable, especially with the reports of so many bridges in the United States in poor repair.

With a Transportation-HUD spending bill in excess of one hundred billion dollars, why would the committee need to add one billion dollars for bridge repair?

Possibly because of the eight billion dollars in pork stuffed in the spending.

Six weeks after a fatal Minneapolis bridge collapse prompted criticism of federal spending priorities, the Senate approved a transportation and housing bill Wednesday containing at least $2 billion for pet projects that include a North Dakota peace garden, a Montana baseball stadium and a Las Vegas history museum.

You might think after the catastrophe of the bridge collapse, our Congressmen would abandon their frivolity and focus on the real needs of our nation's infrastructure. You'd be wrong of course.

Total spending on transportation "earmarks" next year is likely to be about $8 billion, when legislative projects from a previously approved, five-year highway bill are factored in. A newly released report by the Department of Transportation's inspector general identified 8,056 earmarks totaling $8.5 billion in the fiscal year that ended in October, or 13.5% of the Transportation Department's $63 billion spending plan.

With so many needs for repairs to our nation's highways and bridges, with all the pork that needs to be handed out, how will we ever come up with enough money to do the real work needed? Raise taxes, of course.

Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has proposed a temporary 5-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase that he said would raise $25 billion over three years to help reduce the backlog of critical bridge repairs. Among Oberstar's earmarks in the House transportation bill is $250,000 for a bike trail in his district, which he has defended as legitimate. He did not respond to a request for comment.

I like that. A temporary tax. I'm here to say there is no such animal. Once Congress starts getting your money to spend, they are going to do everything they can to keep getting it. The only temporary thing related to taxes is temporary tax cuts. The Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 are due to expire in a couple of years and we can't get them extended or made permanent. Tax cuts are temporary. Tax increases are not.

One would think that a Representative from Minnesota, who chairs the committee that sets the spending for transportation needs for the country, would be more serious than to allow billions of dollars of pork to take precedence over highways and bridges. You would think wrong, of course.

Last, we hear from the stalwart Senator Tom Coburn.
Coburn's staff identified 500 earmarks in the bill, totaling $2 billion, that were publicly disclosed under new rules designed to shed some light on the practice.

"No one in America seriously believes that bike paths, peace gardens and baseball stadiums are more important national priorities than bridge and road repairs," Coburn said.

Coburn and a handful of other lawmakers routinely try to strip bills of earmarks, only to see colleagues crush them with bipartisan efficiency.

On Tuesday, Coburn offered an amendment prohibiting spending on earmarks until every structurally deficient bridge was fixed. It lost, 82 to 14.

Obviously, at least to Congress, it's not a matter of spending priorities. It's that we aren't paying enough gas taxes. As is so often the case in DC, the solution to a problem is not to solve the problem with prudent policy and focused spending priorities, it's to raise taxes.

It's very easy to lay the blame at the feet of Congress for this ongoing diversion of our tax money to feather the nests of elected Representatives and Senators by earmarking money for special pet projects in their districts and states. However, we should look at ourselves just as critically. Every time Congressman Porky Pig is at a ribbon cutting for some new project in your district and you think "Ah, good ole Porky Pig got us that bike trail" and you go and vote for him in the next election, you're encouraging him to use our tax dollars to perpetuate his incumbency.

Example of a transportation money used for pork: Sparta Teapot Museum

h/t: Mark Levin Show