Mmmm, This ‘Pork’ Sounds Tasty: Senators Serve Up Transit Aid

One of Washington’s most enduring truisms is that "pork" is in the eye of the beholder. Self-styled anti-earmark crusaders are fond of bashing clean transportation projects as improper uses of taxpayer money, but most of them recognize privately that rail, bus, and bike investments are a good thing.

090108_bond_raju.jpgHe may not like to admit it, but Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) believes in supporting transit. (Photo: Politico)

A perfect example of this principle at work can be found in the Senate’s transportation spending bill for 2010.

The fiscally hawkish Citizens Against Government Waste blasted the bill today for containing 47 percent more "pork" than its counterpart last year — but the group also managed to catch several conservatives showing their pro-transit stripes.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), who has sought to remove her state entirely from the national road-funding system, got $150 million for two Houston light rail projects. Utah’s two GOP senators, Orrin Hatch and Robert Bennett, snagged $180 million for two rail projects in their state.

Even staunch highway backers such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) got into the spirit. McConnell won $1 million for bus service at Western Kentucky University, while Shelby secured $2 million for buses for senior citizens across his state.

But the most surprising fan of clean transport "pork" is Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO), a staunch ally of the highway lobby who declared earlier this year that investing in carbon-reducing modes of travel is "not stimulative" to the economy. Turns out Bond got money for quite a few "not stimulative" projects …

  • $1.15 million for a new bus transfer center
  • $2 million for new fuel-efficient buses in Kansas City
  • $1.6 million for the Cape Girardeau Riverwalk Trail
  • $2 million for new bus facilities statewide
  • $1 million for new transit vehicles in Columbia, MO

Such numbers pale in comparison with the funds Bond has lavished on new roads over the course of his career. Still, next time the senator seeks to kill transportation reform such as the "complete streets" bill, his constituents can now remind him that he too enjoys some bites of healthy "pork."

  • The principal problem here is the Citizens Against Gov’t Waste org’s use of the term “pork,” not so much the hypocrisy of anti-earmark crusaders. The funds distributed to Houston and Salt Lake’s respective light rail projects (as well as to the New York region’s ARC, for example) were established by the FTA’s New Start process. In other words, the FTA, not Congress, determined how much each of these cities would receive in funds after undergoing a competitive grant process. This hardly counts as pork, even under the definitions of those fighting against earmarks.

  • It’s true that the rail capital projects receiving earmarks are New Starts — but as the DOT states (http://www.fta.dot.gov/funding/grants/grants_financing_3590.html), members Congress must earmark all the available funds for their preferred projects. So without a willing lawmaker to snap up as much money as possible, a project with a full funding agreement might not see its aid materialize on time. And I wouldn’t say these GOPers are guilty of “hypocrisy”; just a knack for saying one thing in Washington and doing something different at home. Democrats do it too.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Montana Dem Max Baucus to Chair Senate Transpo Subcommittee

|
We at Streetsblog have been saying that the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will be a key player in the transportation debate this session, counterbalancing the conservative House as they, together with the administration and the Senate Banking Committee, craft a six-year reauthorization. The EPW could play a key role in tempering House attempts […]

McCain’s Transit Hit List: Get the Details

|
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a self-styled foe of what he labels wasteful government spending, has launched a broadside against transit projects in the U.S. DOT’s 2010 spending bill, which is slated for a vote this week in the upper chamber of Congress. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) (Photo: Scrape TV) McCain had proposed more than 20 […]

Transit Planners to Congress: Please Figure Out How to Fund Us

|
To all but the most ardent transit wonks, the phrase "New Starts" sounds like a motivational tape sold on late-night TV. But those two words actually represent Washington’s predominant mechanism to pay for major transit expansions — everything from expanding an existing rail station to building a new bus line. Minnesota’s Hiawatha rail line is […]

Today’s Headlines

|
Senators to Push Bipartisan Transportation Bill Through Committee Today (Hill, WaPo) Understanding the Senate Map 21 Transportation Proposal (T4A, BikeLeague) Mica Compromises While Romney Vows to Cut Amtrak if Elected (Hill) Sen. Kirk (R-Ill): HSR is Great, But Only for Distances 300 Miles or Less (Hill) Traffic Makes Us Dumber: Scientists Say Car Exhaust Causes […]

Two-Year Transpo Bill Moves on to Full Senate Without Bike/Ped Protections

|
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted unanimously this morning to pass a two-year transportation reauthorization bill, moving the bill one step closer to passage by the full Senate. Unlike in the House, where the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has full responsibility for the transportation bill, the Senate splits jurisdiction among several committees, so […]