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Pork Tales and Bridges Too Far

Lawmakers essentially use taxpayer money to campaign for reelection when they can get Congress to approve local federal projects with very flimsy justifications.

This widely accepted form of corruption sometimes goes over the top. The latest examples can be found in highway bills passed in Congress.

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A House bill would fund two bridges in Alaska whose costs far exceed the benefits. One bridge would connect the town of Ketchikan to an island with about 50 residents, and the region's small airport, in the name of future development. Estimate: $200 million. The other would cross two miles of water between Anchorage and a port with few homes or little commerce. Estimate: $2.2 billion.

Both the House and Senate highway bills contain more than 3,000 "special projects" coming in at an estimated cost of $11 billion. They are now in a conference committee where typically more, not less, pork is added. The House version contains some 2,800 projects, the most ever in a highway bill - and double the number from the last one in 1997.

Some of the more questionable projects include a $3.2 million walkway at Coney Island, a $15 million road to a gold mine in Alaska, and $250,000 for a transportation museum at an Ohio high school.

The Senate version weighs in at $318 billion. That's $62 billion more than President Bush says he would allow. The House bill has a $275 billion price tag. Even at that price tag, Mr. Bush promises a veto (which would be his first). But a veto will likely be overridden.

Lawmakers who stuff bills with pork and then complain about rising federal deficits lose credibility. Perhaps voters back home should take note of that yawning gap in values instead of wasteful federal bacon.


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