Clinton Praises Teamwork on $203-Billion Roads Bill
President Clinton on Tuesday unleashed a torrent of public works money, signing a $203-billion transportation bill that will pay for everything from widening highways to installing flush toilets at rest stops.
Critics call the legislation pork, but travelers won’t have to look far to see the results: Over the next six years, the federal government will spend $167 billion improving, widening and extending its highway system. It will spend an additional $36 billion improving mass transit systems.
“It meets the challenge of building the pathways for the future, while maintaining the fiscal discipline that allowed us to achieve the first balanced budget in 29 years,” Clinton said as a group of construction workers stood behind him.
The president was careful to praise the bipartisanship displayed by Congress, saying to the many congressmen attending the ceremony: “The public expects us to act like parents, not politicians.”
Critics say the new law, which contains 40% more spending than the bill it replaces, is a pork-filled, election-year plum for Congress. They also say it’s a monument to successful lobbying, preserving such questionable tax breaks as ethanol subsidies.
Motorists provide the money for the work every time they fill their gas tanks. The federal government adds a tax of 18.4 cents to every gallon of gas, and the money collected is deposited in the Highway Trust Fund.
In 1990, the government started using some of that money to mask the size of the budget deficit. But under the terms of the bill passed last month by the House and Senate, future gas tax collections must be spent exclusively on highway and mass transit projects.
Backers say the legislation is a major advance for the nation’s safety and well-being, citing figures that suggest 42,000 jobs are created for every $1 billion spent on roads, and projecting that the improvements to come under the new law could trigger a 10% reduction in the 40,000 deaths that occur annually on the nation’s roads.
While the law also includes $719 million to encourage states to crack down on drunken driving, supporters lost their fight to include a provision penalizing states that failed to adopt a 0.08% blood-alcohol standard for drunken driving.
Lawmakers did approve $7 billion for 1,500 special projects designated by House members and $2.35 billion for projects recommended by individual senators. Among them is $38 million inserted at the 11th hour by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.). The money will be used to replace a 50-year-old drawbridge over the Pascagoula River in his hometown.