- The Washington Times - Monday, February 4, 2002

For the first time, members of Congress have dipped directly into a pot of highway money destined for the states to help pay for local projects dear to lawmakers.
In doing so, an Associated Press computer analysis found, Congress steered a large amount of the redirected money toward pet projects in the home states of lawmakers who crafted the final spending plan.
Among the winners:
$3 million for Seattle's Odyssey maritime museum, championed by Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat and co-chairman of the panel that wrote the final plan.
$2 million for downtown revitalization in Somerset, Ky., the hometown of the other co-chairman, Republican Rep. Harold Rogers.
$2.9 million for airport construction in Sugar Land, Texas, hometown of House Majority Whip Tom DeLay. He was on the joint panel of House members and senators who wrote the final spending blueprint.
The shift toward more pet projects cost state and local governments about 11 percent of the money they originally were to get from Washington to spend on transportation as they saw fit.
In Ohio, that means fewer roads with crumbling 1960s-era pavement will be repaved, officials said.
California, the most populous state but without representation on the panel that approved the plan, lost the most money in general highway aid and ranged near the bottom in project dollars when measured as a percentage of population.
In contrast, Alabama, with three lawmakers on the panel, finished near the top in project money.
"It's the classic definition of pork," said Rep. Tom Petri, Wisconsin Republican and a member of House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee who voted against the bill.
While Congress regularly finances pet projects of lawmakers who have clout in spending decisions, this is the first time it has done so by taking away money from the general highway formula money going to the states with no strings attached, according to the House committee.
As it wound its way through Congress, the $59.6 billion transportation bill already had set aside money for special projects, known as earmarks between $3 billion and $4 billion in all.
But with money hard to find in a budget pinched by tax cuts and the costs of war and recession, that total was judged insufficient to do everything lawmakers wanted for their voters like a $500,000 roadside animal-detection experiment in Montana.
So lawmakers lowered the amount of discretionary highway money planned for the states, and freed hundreds of millions of more dollars for their projects.
The AP's review found several states whose lawmakers helped shape the final legislation made out far better than larger, more populous states.
For instance, Alabama ended up with at least $157 million in earmarks, while Ohio, with three times the population and nearly double the annual vehicle miles traveled, got roughly $66 million.
The budget tinkering means vast stretches of Ohio's interstates that have crumbling pavement from the 1960s will not be resurfaced, State Transportation Director Gordon Proctor said.

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