Pork! Pork! Pork!
December 23, 2005 5:47 AM   Subscribe

Merry Christmas, Taxpayers. The latest chapter in the "Alaskan bridges to nowhere" saga.
posted by ZenMasterThis (26 comments total)
Ted Stevens is a scary nutball (anyone see him on The Daily Show recently?). Oh, and he's right after Vice President Dick Cheney in the line of succession.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:49 AM on December 23, 2005

Actually, he's right behind Dennis Hastert. But he is still a scary nutball.
posted by wabashbdw at 6:27 AM on December 23, 2005

Fiscally conservative? ha!
posted by Mijo Bijo at 6:29 AM on December 23, 2005

posted by zeoslap at 6:29 AM on December 23, 2005

The Death of Fiscal Conservatism, Part 423,698.

This post would have been better were there more info/background on increasing use of earmarks, general Ted Stevens craziness, etc. A 6-para complaint about politics could use some jazzing up before becoming an FPP, IMHO. FWIW.
posted by ibmcginty at 7:08 AM on December 23, 2005

Is there any evidence that conservatives are more fiscally responsible than liberals? Any evidence at all?
posted by maxsparber at 7:25 AM on December 23, 2005

Would such bridges provide easier access to the spandex-wearing lumberjack in the ad to the right? If so, I think we should all reconsider their value.
posted by Oddly at 7:31 AM on December 23, 2005

Yeah, but now they're saying he might really resign because they didn't let him put an ANWR drilling rider on the defense spending bill (which was really sleazy).
posted by fungible at 7:31 AM on December 23, 2005

I think both bridges are pork, but it's been interesting to read articles like this one written by people with no real understanding of the situation. Regarding Gravina Island access, the sentence: "To save people that 7-minute ride, Alaska wants to build a $315 million bridge." is an extremely misleading and simplistic assessment of the situation.

First of all, you need to understand how important air transport is to communities all over Alaska. Many are completely cut off from road access to other towns and to the rest of North America; air and sea are the only options. For some, not on the coast, air travel is the only option. And we're not just talking about holiday travelers — business travelers, mail, and commercial transport rely heavily on air travel. Coastal communities use barges for bulk shipping, but it's still a long trip from Seattle. For passengers wishing to go Washington state via the Alaska Marine Highway System, the trip is measured in days, not hours. There is a more material that has to be put on that little "7-minute" ferry from Gravina besides people. I'm sure there are many towns on the Mississippi River that benefit from "unnecessary" bridges to make local commerce easier. Alaska would not be as developed as it is today if airplanes had not been invented.

Second, I believe the primary reason for those in favor of both the Gravina bridge and the one near Anchorage is opening up land for development. Without road access you can't have extensive bedroom communites and eventually secondary city centers, etc. I'm sure that in both areas there are individuals and companies that stand to make a lot of money off of future development. This is a typical pattern in the politics of development in Alaska. I expect that for Ted Stevens, Don Young, and Frank Murkowski the potential long-term economic growth justifies the cost of two bridges.

As I said before, I do consider these expenses pork, and I have to wonder what business interests stand to make money off of these deals. But, the situation is more complicated than it appears from the sound bites being tossed about.
posted by D.C. at 7:36 AM on December 23, 2005

Oh, and here's the Alaska Department of Transportation's website for the Gravina Island Access Project.
posted by D.C. at 7:38 AM on December 23, 2005

Is there any evidence that conservatives are more fiscally responsible than liberals? Any evidence at all?

Sure: they reduce the rates of increase to programs that don't affect their constituencies. These are met with howls of indignation by liberals as "drastic cuts."

This is how the game is played.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:41 AM on December 23, 2005

Incredible Sulk

When the Senate voted Dec. 21 to block his bid to force open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling by breaking Senate rules and tacking the measure onto the annual defense spending bill , Sen. Ted Stevens told reporters “this has been the saddest day of my life.” The second saddest would now officially be the day in December, 1978, when a Lear Jet carrying Stevens crashed in high winds at Anchorage Airport, injuring the senator and killing five people, including his first wife, Ann.

posted by crunchland at 7:47 AM on December 23, 2005

It's so hard to be a Republican senator these days. They should give themselves another payraise, stat.
posted by bardic at 7:55 AM on December 23, 2005

I found the part about Alaska having a 1B USD surplus more interesting. AK could pay for these bridges themselves, but instead they (or their representatives in congress) want to deprive other more needy states (think of the growing southwest) of vital transportation dollars. I look in my own backyard, Clark County, NV. We're paying for a beltway with local funds - through property tax and sales tax dollars - with no help from the feds. Thanks Alaska, for making my community spend its own money (by increasing my taxes) to build desperately needed highways (over 100 cars get added to the local transportation infrastructure every day - 7 days per week 365 days a year).
posted by SirOmega at 8:01 AM on December 23, 2005

Well, at least they managed to cut college aid, Medicaid and billions more in tax cuts for the rich to pay for it.

Except for the tax cuts for the rich.

Yay us!
posted by sacre_bleu at 8:07 AM on December 23, 2005

SirOmega: It's not Alaska's fault if their Senators and Comgresspersons are greedier, more aggressive pork-grabbers than Nevada's. You guys knew the rules when you went to the polls; remember this next election cycle.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:09 AM on December 23, 2005

posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:09 AM on December 23, 2005

As I said before, I do consider these expenses pork, and I have to wonder what business interests stand to make money off of these deals. But, the situation is more complicated than it appears from the sound bites being tossed about.

Gravina Island is population 50. Most of the land is protected wilderness. A very small number of private persons own land there. Guess who owns 33 acres? Nancy Murkowski, wife of the governor and mother of Alaska's senator.
posted by AgentRocket at 8:41 AM on December 23, 2005

D.C., there's truth in your words, except for the (to me) obvious point that no one's making people live on Gravina. Not every parcel of land needs to be developed, ya know?
posted by mkultra at 9:44 AM on December 23, 2005

Thanks, AgentRocket, for that bit about Nancy Murkowski. It doesn't surprise me a bit. It's likely there are other business friends/cronies who we won't know about since there is no obvious connection.

mkultra, I'm not pushing for development. I just wanted to explain the situation better. Gravina, from an Alaskan development perspective makes sense because it's "just across the channel" and already has the airport there. A lot of land in Southeastern Alaska is federal land that can't be sold to build houses, etc. on, so people develop where they can.
posted by D.C. at 10:23 AM on December 23, 2005

I've read a number of stories about poverty in Alaska, and about how the various Indian tribes there are losing track of their heritage, it seems like that extra billion dollars could go towards those things
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 11:02 AM on December 23, 2005

Guaranteed that the bridges serve to advance the financial interests of the Stevens' family.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:41 AM on December 23, 2005

It's good to know that they'll continue to get such bridges. When I worked in Kodiak for a summer back in 1993 they had a relatively new bridge that all the locals I talked to mocked for being so pointless and a waste of money (I have no idea how it was paid for).

I don't remember what was on that little island (I only went over there once and just walked along the shore, salmon season doesn't provide much free time) but the crossing in a boat would take about 45 seconds. To make it more expensive the bridge had been built high enough for large boats to get under (it being an important channel).

I'm sure the easy access means there is now more housing on that island.

I'm sure someone from there knows the history and vital importance of this bridge but I remember it clearly since so many people made a point of making fun of it.
posted by obfusciatrist at 12:12 PM on December 23, 2005

Murkowski is a power mad lunatic, I honestly think he might be senile- the saga of his personal jet is quite amazing. Stevens was carefully grooming his son Ben to replace him but he got busted for fradulent dealings a while back and his political career might be effectively over. Lisa Murkowski is pretty shaky and nearly lost the race to Tony Knowles, and that was with ballot shenanigans. I think they don't relaly give a shit anymore. I also think they own tons of the land that the Knik bridge will access. I sure wish I owned some.

And yes, the $1billion came directly from slashing state programs last year. Fuckers.
posted by fshgrl at 1:41 PM on December 23, 2005

DC nailed an important point about capital investment.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 6:54 PM on December 23, 2005

AK could pay for these bridges themselves, but instead they (or their representatives in congress) want to deprive other more needy states (think of the growing southwest) of vital transportation dollars.

I don't like earmarks, either--they are bad public policy.

But eliminating those earmarks (or any other earmarks, for that matter) won't help in the way you think it will.

The federal transportation funding process is very complex but in short it works like this:

1. Congress decides how much total they are going to spend.

2. Congress comes up with a complicated formula to determine how much of that total each state will get.

3. Congress sets up various rules and policies that come into play when the federal transportation money is spent--things like, you have to have long term transportation plans, projects have to fit into these plans, public involvement must be invited on plans and projects, a certain small percentage must be spent to improve safety, etc. etc. etc.

4. Because they want to claim credit, the congresscritters swoop in at the last minute and put in language that dedicates ("earmarks") a certain part of the money that has already been allocated to their state, for a certain project.

Many times this last step isn't as bad as one might think, because the vast majority of the time they earmark money for a project that is already in the planning pipeline. In other words, this project would already have been built anyway in the normal course of events, but now the congresscritter can take credit for it.

You can't get your photo taken in front of a giant sign that says "We made some really great transportation policy today". (Well, you could--but why?)

You can get your photo taken in front of a new bridge or overpass or highway or whatever.

The bad part is, that a project that is earmarked can do an end run around the normal policies and procedures, including the regular public input and concensus building among various local government leaders that is a normal part of federally funded transportation projects. Part of that process is a decision about exactly what type of a project to build and how much to spend on it.

Projects compete for money against other needed local projects and spending more on one particular projects means other projects have less.

Earmarks short-circuit this local decision making process because the earmark sets the amount of money that will be spent on that project.

Again, this isn't as horrible as it could be, because the congresscritter almost always consults with local officials (almost always the same ones who would be involved in making the decision in the normal course of events) about how much money to earmark.

But still, a degree of flexibility is lost and it basically amounts to micromanaging.

In summary--if you want the gov't to spend less on transportation, then attack step #1 (overall funding level).

If you think AK should give up some money to AR, then attack step #2 (formula that determines state funding proportions).

If you think more money should be spent on transit, Amtrak, encouraging better growth patterns, encouraging more alternative fuels or transportation alternatives rather than just bigger badder freeway systems, encouraging road maintenance rather than new construction, or whatever, then attack step #3 (policies and procedures).

But step #4, the earmarks, is basically just a PR stunt--both for proponents and opponents.

Strangely enough, the rational argument about earmarks (let's get rid of them because they make bad public policy by short circuiting the regular local decision making process) is not one I've heard from anyone.
posted by flug at 7:06 PM on December 23, 2005

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