Ron Utt at Heritage began circulating the idea some days ago that it is possible to address two problems at once. Divert the thousands of pork projects in the recent highway appropriations bill to the post-Katrina tasks at hand. Too good to be true -- and in clear violation of the laws of public choice economics.
The news this morning, however, is that at least some people (Montanans in this case)are turning pork into aid. Who would have thought?
Here is the WSJ summary:
"A 'Moronic' Proposal"
September 14, 2005; Page A20
"Some public-spirited folks in Bozeman, Montana, have come up with a wonderful idea to help Uncle Sam offset some of the $62 billion federal cost of Hurricane Katrina relief. The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports that Montanans from both sides of the political aisle have petitioned the city council to give the feds back a $4 million earmark to pay for a parking garage in the just-passed $286 billion highway bill. As one of these citizens, Jane Shaw, told us: 'We figure New Orleans needs the money right now a lot more than we need extra downtown parking space.'
"Which got us thinking: Why not cancel all of the special-project pork in the highway bill and dedicate the $25 billion in savings to emergency relief on the Gulf Coast? Is it asking too much for Richmond, Indiana, to give up $3 million for its hiking trail, or Newark, New Jersey, to put a hold on its $2 million bike path?
"And in the face of the worst natural disaster in U.S. history, couldn't Alaskans put a hold on the infamous $454 million earmark for the two "bridges to nowhere" that will serve a town of 50 people? That same half a billion dollars could rebuild thousands of homes for suffering New Orleans evacuees. One obstacle to this idea apparently will be Don Young, the House Transportation Committee Chairman who captured the funds for Alaska in the first place. A spokesman in his office told the Anchorage Daily News that the pork-for-relief swap was "moronic." Sounds like someone who wants Mr. Young to become "ranking Member" next Congress.
"In all there are more than 6,000 of these parochial projects -- or about 14 for every Congressional district -- funded in the highway bill. The pork reduction plan is particularly appropriate as a response to Katrina, because we have learned in recent days that one reason that money was not spent on fortifying the levees in New Orleans was that hundreds of millions of dollars were rerouted to glitzier earmarked projects throughout the state of Louisiana.
"We're hearing all sorts of bad ideas about how to offset the $62 billion of spending already authorized for Hurricane Katrina relief. Cancel the Bush tax cuts, raise the gasoline tax by $1 a gallon, increase deficit spending, and sharply cut spending on national defense and the war in Iraq. In Washington, it seems, everything is expendable except for the slabs of bacon that are carved out of the federal fisc to ensure re-election.
"The glory of what is happening in Bozeman is that taxpayers are proving to be wiser about priorities than their politicians. We like the suggestion by Ronald Utt of the Foundation Heritage that, when the new levee is built to protect the Big Easy from future storms, it should bear a bronze plaque stamped: 'Proudly Brought to You by the Citizens of Alaska.'"