Highway Porkers in the House

August 28, 1991

When it comes to bringing home the pork, Rep. Robert Roe, D-N.J., and his co-conspirators on the House Public Works Committee know how to get more than their share of the bacon. He and his colleagues recently put together a $33 billion transportation bill so laden down with goodies for their own districts that it collapsed under its own weight. Their "oinks" of delight quickly turned to squeals of anguish.

It was the most piggish sight Washington had seen in quite some time. The panel's four top-ranking leaders divvied up $2.2 billion among their districts. One, Rep. Bud Shuster, won $287 million in projects for his rural central Pennsylvania district -- more than was earmarked for the entire state of Alabama! All told, Mr. Roe doled out 508 pieces of pork, at a cost to taxpayers of $11 billion.

Not even the usually profligate House could stomach this excess. The bill, along with a five-cent gas-tax increase to pay for the projects (House Speaker Thomas Foley's vaunted "nickel for America"), was unceremoniously pulled from the House agenda. Here's hoping it never re-emerges.

What we would like to see surface is the House equivalent of the Moynihan bill that passed the Senate by an overwhelming margin. This plan radically overhauls the nation's transportation policy, placing greater emphasis on highway alternatives, giving more power to metropolitan areas with the the worst congestion and providing flexibility to the states on spending the money.

Chairman Roe wants to ignore the new economic and transportation realities facing the nation. He would turn back the clock, encouraging fuel consumption, raising taxes to pay for all those pork-barrel road projects lavished on his colleagues and reserving a substantial chunk of the rewards for his own and his buddies' districts.

This approach is no longer acceptable. That's the message the House rank-and-file delivered to the leadership. But were Messrs. Foley, Roe & Co. listening?

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