Taxpayers Get Railroaded | Citizens Against Government Waste

Taxpayers Get Railroaded

The WasteWatcher

In an emergency supplemental appropriations bill designed to provide $92 billion for the war on terror and hurricane relief, Mississippi Senators Trent Lott (R) and Thad Cochran (R) added $700 million to relocate newly repaired railroad tracks.  The costly pork barrel project has been jammed into an already bloated bill which currently sits at $106.5 billion, or $14.5 billion above the $92 billion version passed by the House last month, which met the President’s request.

This latest example of congressional abuse of emergency spending engineered by Sens. Lott and Cochran is purportedly designed to save the railroad tracks from future damage from hurricanes, as well as to protect Mississippi’s coastal population from train accidents.  But CSX, the owner of the rail line, just paid $300 million to rebuild the tracks after Hurricane Katrina and a company spokesman said of the rebuilt line, “There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.”  In a move reminiscent of the “Bridges to Nowhere” in Alaska, this railroad has been aptly named “The Railroad to Nowhere.”

Sens. Lott and Cochran say that the move is essential to economic development.  For the past decade, officials have aspired to transform the Mississippi coastline into a highly developed tourist attraction.  By altering the path of the tracks a few miles to the north and rerouting U.S. 90 along the coast, the state believes it can create a hotbed of tourist activity; complete with striking views and marvelous casinos.  However, creating a “centralized gaming district” for the coastal region of Mississippi by switching the location of the tracks and highway for the singular purpose of tourism hardly constitutes emergency spending.

After a flood of criticism from Congress and the media, Sen. Lott stated, “I’ll just say this about the so-called pork busters.  I’m getting damn tired of hearing from them.” 

Unfortunately, the “Railroad to Nowhere” is only a part (albeit a very costly one) of a much larger problem with emergency spending.  Recently, supplemental bills have been used in a manner for which they were not designed; as a way to slip pet projects through, specifically ones which would not have survived in a non-emergency appropriations bill.  For example, in addition to the CSX project, the current Senate supplemental bill includes $4 billion in farm subsidy bailouts for the Midwest, $1.1 billion for fisheries assistance, and $594 million for national highway projects, one of which is in Hawaii.

Indeed, this practice, resulting in what amounts to be an additional appropriations budget, is becoming ingrained in American politics.  As Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) pointed out in a recent issue of The Wall Street Journal, Congress averaged a total of $22 billion in emergency spending annually in the 1990s, compared to $100 billion presently.

The practice of incorporating inconsequential projects into legislation designed for emergency use is another example of Congress’s appetite for pork.  The Senate action comes on the heels of a record $29 billion in pork-barrel spending in the 11 regular appropriations bills for fiscal 2006, and is particularly disturbing since earmark and lobbying reform bills – which would reduce pork – are being considered by Congress.

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