February 17, 2004 | News Releases on Smart Growth
WASHINGTON, FEB. 17, 2004-If Congress sends President Bush an expensive, pork-laden transportation bill-as now appears likely-he should follow through on his threat to veto it, says Ronald Utt, a budget expert at The Heritage Foundation.
"The highway bill is a poster child for wasteful spending," Utt writes in a new paper released by the Washington-based think tank. "The final product will be loaded with thousands of pork-barrel items, million-dollar boondoggles that have nothing to do with improving mobility. If the president wants to persuade voters that he's serious about restraining federal spending, this is the place to start."
The president has proposed spending $256 billion over the next six years, slightly more than the $234 billion the highway trust fund will take in from federal fuel taxes over that period. The Senate's bill, passed Feb. 12 by a vote of 76 to 21, would cost $318 billion and calls for a complicated package of tax changes to make up the resulting deficit-a package the White House argues will add to the deficit and raise taxes. The House version would spend $375 billion and narrow the resulting gap by raising federal fuel taxes by 43 percent over the next six years.
"The federal highway program has become the country's largest spoils system," Utt says. "Spending and programs are increasingly designed and directed to reward influential constituents and senior members of Congress. Somebody has to apply the brake."
Especially, Utt says, when a veto could spark a much-needed reform of the nation's broken-down transportation policy. The numbers of licensed drivers, registered vehicles and miles driven have soared since 1970, but new road miles have increased by 6 percent. "The federal program has spent a staggering $700 billion in taxpayer money since 1970 and has little of value to show for it," Utt says.
He lays out several ways Congress can improve on this track record:
Utt's paper can be found online at http://www.heritage.org/Research/SmartGrowth/bg1725.cfm.