Politics & Policy

The Wasteland

Misadventures in government spending.

Cost of Alaskan Bridge Goes Up by $67 Million;

Bridge Itself Still Goes to Nowhere

The Bridge to Nowhere is back. Last week, the Alaska Department of Transportation announced that inflation and increases in the cost of materials would push the final price tag on the Gravina Island bridge project up to an astonishing $395 million — that’s $29,737 per resident of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough. According to the Associated Press, Borough Mayor Joe Williams called the $395 million “a lot of money,” but said he will continue to push to get the project funded.

This year, Williams and other advocates for the project are facing an even more hostile environment than the one they faced in 2005, when conservatives in Congress successfully stripped a $223 million earmark for the bridge out of that year’s fiscally disastrous transportation bill (the money still went to Alaska, but the state spent most of it on other priorities). Gov. Frank Murkowski, a shameless proponent of numerous wasteful transportation boondoggles, is gone, soundly beaten in last year’s primary by solidly conservative (and ridiculously good-looking) Republican Sarah Palin. “This projected increase [in the bridge’s cost] comes at a time when the governor has asked for all agencies to reduce spending by 10 percent,” a spokesman for the governor tells National Review Online. Needless to say, building a half-billion-dollar bridge between a town of 8,000 and an island of 50 is not on her list of state transportation priorities.

What’s more, the state’s congressional porkers — Rep. Don Young and Sen. Ted Stevens — are no longer committee chairs, having joined the rest of the GOP in the minority on Capitol Hill. It was Young who, as then-chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, authored the Bridge to Nowhere earmark in 2005 — back when the bridge only cost $328 million. Thanks in part to this kind of brazen excess, which disgusted independents and infuriated conservatives, Young doesn’t have that kind of clout anymore. 

That leaves the Alaska DOT stuck between the local officials who want the bridge and a governor who hasn’t set aside any money for it. Add a congressional delegation unable to bring home the bacon like it used to and it’s no surprise that morale at the department has cratered. According to the AP, Gov. Palin’s transition team discovered a department in which obtaining “federal earmarks in congressional appropriations trump all other priorities… and the state suffers as a result.” The team’s advice? Alaska needs to go on a diet from federal dollars and focus on “developing a state-funded transportation and maintenance program.” Music to the ears of the lower 48, which have supported Alaska’s pork habit for too long.


New Massachusetts Gov Buys Brand New Cadillac;

Aides Cite “Security Standards”

$3,870 for two chairs $12,300 for new drapes. A $46,000 Cadillac leased for $1,166 per month. Consolation prizes for Nancy Pelosi after that personal jumbo jet didn’t work out?

Right party, wrong pol. The above are just a few items newly elected Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick’s staff purchased during a taxpayer-funded spending spree that occurred shortly after he took office, for which Patrick has now apologized.

Oh, yeah, we screwed up,” Patrick told reporters Thursday, adding (somewhat incoherently): “I am so sorry that we all have spent the kind of time we have on what we have spent time on, and I am sorry to have been responsible for that.”

But Patrick refused to apologize for hiring a $72,000 chief of staff for his wife who, according the Boston Herald, has so far only attended two official events this year. The last Massachusetts first lady to have her own staff was Kitty Dukakis. Dukakis’s husband, Michael, was also the last Democrat to preside over the commonwealth. What a bizarre coincidence!

Patrick has promised to reimburse Massachusetts taxpayers for all the expensive office furniture — $27,400 in all — and to make up the difference between the Cadillac lease and the monthly payment on his predecessor Mitt Romney’s official car: a Ford Crown Victoria. According to the Boston Globe, Patrick “initially said that Ford Crown Victoria sedans were no longer available, but his aides later corrected that answer, explaining that the new Crown Victoria models did not meet State Police security standards.”

Newly elected Democrat justifies pricy ride by citing “security standards”… why does that sound so familiar?

Dems Cut Funding for Infant AIDS Prevention;

CDC Now Free to Fund More Erotic-Fiction Workshops

Sen. Tom Coburn was among a handful of senators who blocked the passage of nine bulging spending bills in the waning days of the lame-duck GOP majority. At the time, a spokesman for Sen. Jim DeMint explained to the AP: “The last thing Republicans need is an end-of-Congress spending spree as our last parting shot as we walk out the door.”

This left the Democrats with a huge mess to clean up when they took power earlier this year, as well as a desire to get even with Coburn. According to a spokesman for Coburn, that’s exactly what happened when Senate Democrats killed a $30 million grant program to fund infant AIDS prevention. (Coburn fought for the provision until it finally became law in December of 2006.) “This appears to be a clear attempt at retribution, and it’s extraordinarily petty,” the spokesman told NRO earlier this month when we published an editorial on the subject.

Democrats have smugly described the program as an “earmark” — a jibe aimed at the parsimonious Coburn which, besides being obnoxious, happens to be incorrect. Earmarks, as defined by the Congressional Research Service, benefit “a specific organization or location.” By contrast, this grant program benefits any state that mandates universal AIDS testing for newborns and implements policies that encourage mothers to get tested.

Therein lies the deeper reason Democrats killed the program. Left-wing activist groups have long opposed such measures on privacy grounds, even though they have yielded astonishing results in states like New York that have adopted them. By eliminating this partition of CDC funds, the Democrats scored a twofer — payback for Coburn’s stubbornness on spending and a sop to their friends at the ACLU.

So what kind of AIDS-prevention efforts will that $30 million be funding now? NZ Bear at Porkbusters.org has a great round-up of activities funded by CDC grants, including (but not limited to):  

Flirting classes;

Erotic fiction workshops; and

Guidelines for relations with escorts.


He forgot to mention the time the CDC funded a “seminar on safe sex” featuring a male porn star who allegedly “stripped and had sexual contact with the audience,” but a comprehensive accounting of all the frivolous purposes to which the CDC puts its annual allowance is not necessary to convince most reasonable people that it needs stricter guidelines on how it spends. Can we please start by requiring the CDC to spend money on actual disease prevention and not extracurricular activities for randy San Franciscans? Is this a hard question?


The Latest

The Great Elucidator

The Great Elucidator

An inspiring one-hour documentary about the conservative public intellectual Thomas Sowell serves as a superb intro to his thinking.