Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Barreling down the pork highway

President Bush, after presiding over four years of ballooning deficits, suddenly fancies himself a fiscal conservative and is threatening to veto a federal highway bill unless Congress trims $11 billion off what is surely a pork-laden piece of legislation. Congress is claiming it has to spend all that money in order to reduce highway fatalities and ease congestion. In other words, Congress has to pump billions of tax dollars into ensuring that Americans can live far from where they work and shop. Yet again I'm reminded of the classic Sam Kinison bit, in which the comedian said he longed to tell those starving Ethiopians they wouldn't be hungry if they would just live where the food is.

Of course, it would be one thing if building or expanding highways actually eased congestion. For some reason, our so-called leaders have failed to learn that the more roads you build, the more congestion you create. What's that you say, the bill also includes $50 billion for mass transit? Well, given how the Port Authority of Allegheny County spends its federal transit dollars (think the planned North Shore T line) I'd just as soon say thanks, but no thanks.

We have to endure many insults to our intelligence from our elected officials, but the idea that they are motivated by concern for the public welfare is the limit. Of course, a little honesty is slipping through; legislators are claiming the bill will create 47,000 jobs, and those jobs no doubt will go to constituents who can be counted to remember their own representative or senator on Election Day, even as voters clamor to throw the bums out. Let's not forget that spending tax dollars to create jobs that wouldn't otherwise be necessary is what's landed Pittsburgh on the brink of bankruptcy. But at the federal level, as our vice president would remind us, deficits don't matter.


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