Thursday, August 11, 2005

Texas gets a smaller slice of federal pork

Bush signs $286 billion transportation measure

By Bob Dart
Cox News Service
Copyright 2005

WASHINGTON - The Apollo Theater -- the immobile and impassable home of sweet soul music -- wasn't forgotten in the $286.4 billion transportation bill that President Bush signed into law Wednesday.

"This does not belong in a highway bill," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., denouncing a section requiring the Economic Development Administration to lease and improve the historic Harlem theater, where mass transit usually involves Tina Turner singing "rollin' on the river" from Proud Mary.

While supporters were hailing the new law as a boon for the nation's deteriorating transportation system, critics were lambasting it as a boondoggle in which lawmakers poured federal funds into pet projects for their home districts.

"If we want people working in America, we got to make sure our highways and roads are modern," Bush said after signing the bill into law at a Caterpillar Inc. plant in Montgomery, Ill.

David Williams, vice president of Citizens Against Government Waste, countered: "We are extremely disappointed that Bush didn't veto this."

The critics focused on the bill's 6,371 grants for special projects, called "earmarks" on Capitol Hill and "pork" by critics, from a sarcastic suggestion once made that the government should provide every voter a barrel of pork.

The bill spreads the largess across virtually every congressional district in the country.

For example, it includes $223 million to build a bridge to Gavin Island in Alaska, where 50 people live. The Mississippi town of Petal gets $200,000 for a bicycle path.

Slightly more in tune with the new law for surface transportation, funds are also provided for a National Packard Museum in Warren, Ohio, where the now-defunct auto was produced; the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich., where the Model T assembly line was first set up, and the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse, N.Y., where mules once pulled barges.

What may be surprising is that the Texas delegation, long admired for its ability to bring home the bacon, is on the sidelines this time.

Texas generates more federal gasoline tax revenue than almost any other state, but it is slated to receive only $669 million -- less than 3 percent -- in earmarks.

The shortage of earmarked money is especially noticeable in Tarrant County, which will receive only a fraction of Texas' share.

The allotments in the Fort Worth area include $12.8 million for the Trinity Uptown project, $4 million for Airport Freeway in Hurst-Euless-Bedford, $3.2 million for the Grapevine funnel and $1.6 million for Interstate 30 in Arlington.

Taxpayers for Common Sense, which calls itself a nonpartisan budget watchdog group, said the highway bill contains about $24 billion in earmarks, about 9 percent of the total. That includes 273 projects worth $452.3 million for Georgia; 232 earmarks worth $694.6 million for Florida; 245 earmarks worth $665.2 million for Ohio; 129 earmarks worth $407.5 million for North Carolina, and 94 earmarks worth $485.3 million for Colorado.

"This bill is by far the most expensive, wasteful highway bill in the nation's history," said Keith Ashdown, the group's vice president. "By ignoring his promise to veto a fiscally irresponsible highway bill, the president has continued his record of not vetoing any legislation, no matter how wasteful or full of pork."

But White House spokesman Trent Duffy said Bush actually had squeezed excess spending from the bill with veto threats that delayed its passage by two years.

"It's close to $100 billion less than where it originally started," Duffy said. "If you recall, in the House it was close to $380, $390, almost $400 billion. It's now $286 billion. This is a balanced transportation bill that funds our infrastructure needs while not breaking the bank."

This Report Includes Material From Star-Telegram Archives.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram: