After Hurricane Katrina swallowed up New Orleans, people demanded to know why the federal government had been shortchanging Louisiana. Where was the funding this vulnerable state needed to stave off disaster? Well, it turns out Louisiana was getting lots of taxpayer dollars, hundreds of millions more than many other states. The big problem was not the amount of money going to Louisiana, but how it was all being spent. Enough sure wasn’t earmarked for New Orleans’ levees.
The sad truth is that our tax dollars are often wasted. Sometimes the misspent amounts are huge, sometimes fairly small. Their impact is rarely on the scale of Katrina, thank goodness, but at a time of strained budgets and huge deficits, every example of waste and abuse is an outrage.
Bridge to Nowhere
You’re probably seething at how much it costs now to fill up your car’s gas tank. Well, get this. Part of the tax on every gallon of gas is helping to pay for prize pork in Alaska. Political pork, that is, in the form of a hugely expensive, state-of-the-art bridge that connects, well, not much of anything.
This year, in the small fishing village (and cruise-ship stop) of Ketchikan, Alaska, Rep. Don Young, the state’s only U.S. Congressman since 1973, vacuumed up nearly half a billion dollars for new Alaskan bridges that will serve just several thousand people.
Within the huge six-year $286.5 billion highway bill that President Bush signed in August, Young procured some $454 million. He can do that because he is the chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and because he apparently doesn’t care that he’s robbing U.S. taxpayers to pay for unnecessary projects.
One of the Alaskan bridges being constructed is a $223 million edifice that will connect Ketchikan (pop. 14,000) to Gravina Island (pop. 50). But this bridge isn’t just a simple connective link; it is an architectural feat rivaling some of America’s most renowned bridges. The Ketchikan-Gravina Island bridge is designed to be slightly shorter than the Golden Gate Bridge, and fully 200 feet above water at its apex (the better for cruise ships to pass underneath).
The preposterous “need” for the bridge is that the airport serving Ketchikan is situated on Gravina Island. However, residents have easily crossed the Tongass Narrows in a mere seven minutes by ferry for more than three decades. Not only is the ferry quick and cost-effective, it connects residents to an airport with fewer than ten commercial flights per day.
In the annals of odious oinkmanship, Young has earned a special place in hog heaven. The Republican Congressman even went so far as to name the bill in honor of his wife and include a provision that one of the Alaskan bridges be named “Don Young’s Way.” Young is so unrepentant that he actually bragged about the bill and his procurement prowess: “I stuffed it like a turkey.”