- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 2, 2005


A half century ago, when President Eisenhower proposed the first national highway bill, two projects were singled out for funding. Last week, when Congress passed the latest multiyear bill, there were, by one estimate, 6,371 of these special projects, a record for which some say politicians should be ashamed.

The projects in the six-year, $286.4 billion highway and mass transit bill range from $200,000 for a deer avoidance system in Weedsport, N.Y., to $330 million for a highway in Bakersfield, Calif.

For the beneficiaries, almost every member of Congress, they bring jobs and better quality lives to their communities and states. To critics, the projects are pork barrel spending at its worst.

“Egregious and remarkable,” said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, about the estimated $24 billion in the bill set aside for highways, bus stops, parking lots and bike trails requested by lawmakers.

Mr. McCain, one of only four senators to oppose the bill, listed several dozen “interesting” projects, including $480,000 to rehabilitate a historic warehouse on the Erie Canal and $3 million for dust control on Arkansas rural roads.

His favorite, he said, was $2.3 million for landscaping on the Ronald Reagan Freeway in California. “I wonder what Ronald Reagan would say.”

Mr. Reagan, in fact, vetoed a highway bill over what he said were spending excesses, only to be overridden by Congress. Meanwhile, according to a Cato Institute analysis, special projects or “earmarks” numbered 10 in 1982, 152 in 1987, 538 in 1991 and 1,850 in 1998. The 1998 highway act set aside some $9 billion for earmarks, well under half the newest plan.

“This bill will be known as the most earmarked transportation bill in the history of our nation,” said Keith Ashdown, vice president of policy for Taxpayers for Common Sense, which tracks such projects in congressional legislation.

President Bush threatened to veto the measure over spending issues, and it took nearly two years for Congress to reach a compromise that the White House would accept.

Deciding how much will go to earmarks, however, is up to Congress, and few lawmakers are willing to turn down a new road or bridge in their district.

“Road projects are regarded as a kind of government jobs program that Republicans can safely embrace,” said Peter Sepp, spokesman for the National Taxpayers Union.

The biggest beneficiaries tend to be the lawmakers with the most clout.

Alaska, the third-least-populated state, got the fourth most in earmarks, $941 million, largely because of the work of its lone representative, Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young. That included $231 million for a bridge near Anchorage to be named Don Young’s Way in honor of the Republican.

Meanwhile, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, California Republican, secured $630 million, including $330 million for the Centennial Corridor Loop in Bakersfield, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.

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