You might think politicians would have learned something from the catastrophic collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis. You'd be wrong. The bridge disaster focused a lot of public attention on how government transportation funds have been earmarked for pet projects of the politicians, such as nature trails, museums, lighthouses, and flowers for California freeways instead of bridges in need of repair.
Those earmarks were in the 2005 Transportation Bill, which covered a five-year appropriation. But there are various other transportation funding bills, including one that was passed only days before the bridge collapsed, which also had earmarks. In 1981 there were only 10 earmarks. In 2005 there were 6,371. A new government study now shows the number is 8,056. And the trend continues.
To demonstrate its concern over the state of the nation's bridges after the recent collapse, the U.S. Senate voted last week to set aside $1 billion for bridge repairs. But wait! Don't applaud just yet. The same bill approved 843 new earmarks totaling $1.5 billion. North Dakota will get $450,000 of the transportation funds for its Peace Garden on the Canadian border. Montana will get funds for a minor league baseball stadium in Billings.
In the House version of the bill there are 1,400 earmarks worth $2.2 billion. These include a Mule and Packers Museum in a California town of 3,575 people. Minnesota will get $100 million for two mass transit projects.
Rep. Tom Coburn, (R-Okla) stated: “The bridge in Minnesota didn't fail as much as Congress failed. We failed to direct dollars where they were most needed because this body is obsessed with parochial pork barrel politics.” His assessment is supported by a recent report by the U.S. Transportation Department inspector general, which states: “Many earmarked projects considered by [transportation] agencies as low priority are being funded over higher priority non-earmarked projects.” Anyone could tell that just from the type of projects that got the money, but Congress pays no attention. It seizes the opportunity to continue doing more of the same.
A bill last week to pass a moratorium on earmarks until all the nation's defective bridges are repaired failed miserably in the Senate, by a vote of 82 to 14. A Gallup poll in July found that Congress has the lowest rating of any institution in our society. The military had the highest rating, 69 percent, while Congress had only a 14 percent approval rating even before the bridge collapse. The vote on the earmark moratorium is an example of why that low number is well deserved.
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