More than $88 million for a bridge in
northern Illinois. $1 million for renovations of a historic Georgia
bus station. $4 million for a parking garage. These are but a few
of the more than 3,200 special projects receiving federal dollars
as a part of the $275 billion transportation bill intended to fund
the construction and renovation of highways. On April 2, the U.S.
House of Representatives passed this pork-laden bill 357 to 65
despite a crippling federal budget deficit and even though this
country does not need more highways. President Bush should veto
this bill regardless of its overwhelming support in both the Senate
and the House.
Members of Congress are letting their desire for re-election
override their sense of what is best for the country as a whole.
Politicians slip relatively inexpensive earmarks into larger bills
in order to please their constituencies. This is acceptable to an
extent — essential small projects will often only receive
funding when tagged onto a larger bill. However, with the federal
highway bill, earmarks have gotten out of hand: $11 billion is
devoted to special projects. The government is facing its largest
deficit ever, and this bill will only drive it deeper in the red.
Politicians know this, yet they still voted overwhelmingly for a
bloated bill, probably to improve re-election prospects.
Moving beyond the pork, even the heart of the highway bill is
misguided. Publicly funded mass transit would do more to improve
the well-being of the country than more highways ever could.
Highways are not only an inefficient use of land, they also
reinforce American overdependence on cars. They promote urban
sprawl by providing high-speed conduits between outlying areas and
inner cities, creating vast, badly planned metropolises. Larger
highways inevitably generate more traffic, increasing the demand
for even larger, more extensive highways. Additionally, highways
are extremely expensive to build and maintain; it should come as no
surprise that an increasing proportion of government spending is
devoted solely to automotive needs. Mass transit, on the other
hand, reduces our dependence on cars and is a much more
cost-effective investment than highways. While it is commendable
that $51.5 billion of this bill is devoted to mass transit, this
portion is still far too small when compared to the $217.4 billion
going to highways.
Bush should honor his vows to curb unnecessary government
spending and veto this bill, even though both the Senate and the
House have sufficient votes to override him. A veto would
nonetheless show dedication on the part of the administration to
controlling spending. At this time of record-breaking deficits and
unchecked urban sprawl, Bush should use his position to send a
strong message criticizing this pork-filled, imprudent bill.