Bush says $286 bln highway bill creates U.S. jobs
"The bill ... is going to help give hundreds of thousands of Americans good paying jobs."
MONTGOMERY, Ill – President Bush signed a $286.5 billion highway bill on Wednesday that he said would create new jobs but which critics contend is stuffed with billions of dollars worth of lawmakers’ pet projects.
The legislation funds road and mass transit construction for six years, but also contains $24 billion in «pork» — special add-ons initiated by members of the Senate and House of Representatives to curry favor in their home districts.
«The bill … is going to help give hundreds of thousands of Americans good paying jobs,» Bush said. «Our economy depends on us having the most efficient, reliable transportation system in the world and if we want people working in America we’ve got to make sure our highways and roads are modern.»
Bush said it accomplished the goals of upgrading roads, bridges and mass transit and ensuring safety in «a fiscally responsible way» without raising gasoline taxes.
But the measure contains more than 6,300 special projects.
They include $231 million for a bridge in Anchorage to be named Don Young’s Way after Republican Rep. Don Young of Alaska, who heads the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and $2.3 million for landscaping along the Ronald Reagan Freeway in California.
Alaska, the third-least populated state, got the fourth most money for special projects — $941 million — according to an analysis by the government watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense.
Keith Ashdown, the group’s vice president, said Bush should have vetoed the «fiscally irresponsible» bill.
«It leaves the nation stuck in traffic gridlock, but greases the wheels of powerful politicians,» Ashdown said. «This bill is by far the most expensive, wasteful highway bill in the nation’s history.»
California, Illinois and New York received the largest amounts. Ranking 10th was Oklahoma — the home state of Republican Sen. James Inhofe, the bill’s chief Senate negotiator, who was at the bill signing ceremony.
At a Caterpillar plant that builds highway construction equipment in Montgomery, part of Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s Illinois district, Bush promised there would be «more jobs created around places like this.»
Tieless, his shirt-sleeves rolled up, Bush, who came to the event from his 33-day vacation at his Texas ranch, told the Caterpillar employees: «There’s a Cat working on the ranch right now, and I’m not driving it.»
White House spokesman Trent Duffy defended the bill, pointing out that Bush had set a spending cap, rejecting efforts in Congress to pass a package that was originally closer to $400 billion.
«This is a balanced transportation bill that funds our infrastructure needs while not breaking the bank,» Duffy said.
The legislation was delayed for 22 months as Congress wrangled with the White House over cost.
Lawmakers also wrestled over allocation formulas for states. Gas tax receipts contributed by states go to a federal trust fund that pays for highway programs. Some states put in more than they get back in construction grants. They sought and received a bigger payout.
Among key safety provisions, Congress would reward states with grants for passing tough seat belt laws. The bill also would allow private companies to raise up to $15 billion for highway projects with bonds that are exempt from federal income taxes. It expanded the ethanol excise tax credit to include alternative fuels and authorized the government to crack down on fuel tax evasion.
…U.S. President George W. Bush (L) holds up a box containing H.R. 3, The Transportation Equity Act, alongside Dennis Hastert (R-IL), Speaker of the House of Representatives, at the Caterpillar-Aurora Facility in Montgomery, Illinois, August 10, 2005. Bush signed the act into law in the factory.