Remember when people acted outraged after the collapse of the St. Anthony Bridge in Minneapolis because of the neglect of American infrastructure? We don’t spend enough on maintaining what our grandparents bequeathed us, as some poetically put it. Others offered more prosaic and predictable rants aimed at people who oppose tax increases; one Minneapolis crank blamed the Taxpayers League for the thirteen deaths. Had we taken more money from the people, they claimed, the bridge would have received proper maintenance and never would have collapsed, even though no one knows to this day what initiated the disaster.
Before we start blaming a lack of money, though, let’s take a look at the amount of wasted funds that this Congress approved even after the bridge collapsed:
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.
That’s not the half of it.
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.
The inspector general’s report found that the vast majority of earmarks — project-specific spending instructions written into bills, usually by lawmakers — were not evaluated on their merits, and that many “low-priority” earmarks often squeezed out more important projects.
Want to know what had to be cut from the bill in order to get the North Dakota Peace Garden? Oh, just a silly little project that would have updated technology in air-traffic control towers. But the Peace Garden wasn’t the only beneficiary of freeing up funds from making air travel safer. California will also get a “mule and packer museum”. Perhaps Americans can start traveling by donkey instead.
Senator Tom Coburn attempted to stop the pork party, to no avail. He offered an amendment that would have forbidden earmarks on transportation bills until all deficient bridges had been properly updated. That just barely failed — by a vote of 82 to 14. Eighty-two Senators voted to prioritize pork over infrastructure maintenance.
In fact, the pork comes to one out of every eight dollars spent on transportation now. In the past eleven years, earmarks have increased a whopping 1150%, while the dollar value of the pork has increased over 300% in the same period. Ninety-nine percent of these earmarks bypassed planning agencies, meaning that the monies got no review for prioritization. How many bridges could have been repaired with that money over the last decade? How many baseball fields in places like Billings got built instead?
Eight billion dollars would build 32 new St. Anthony Bridges. How many hundreds could it have repaired? And that’s just this transportation bill.
Politicians like Jim Oberstar love their bike paths and museums, especially when they have their names attached to them. Oberstar and his ilk would rather spend money on their vanity projects than infrastructure. And after demonstrating such perverse priorities on managing our money, the porkers have the temerity to demand even more in taxes to do what they should have done from the beginning.
Today, I’ll talk with Senator Coburn on Heading Right Radio, at 2 pm ET. Don’t miss this show, and be sure to call us at 646-652-4889 to speak with one of the few politicians looking to eliminate the gateway drug of public corruption.
UPDATE: Here’s the list of Senators who voted in support of Dr. Coburn’s amendment to suspend all earmarks until deficient bridges are repaired, or didn’t cast a vote:
Not Voting – 4
Every other Senator voted to keep pork rather than fix bridges. Twelve of Coburn’s supporters were Republicans, while only two Democrats voted to forego pork in the name of public safety.
And these people want more of our money?
BUMP: To top.