THE ONETIME reformist mom in tennis shoes can bring home the bacon. Strewn amid $190 million in new federal transportation spending for Washington (three times last year's appropriations), U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) found $3 million for the Odyssey Maritime Museum, a waterfront attraction that's not exactly a cure for Seattle gridlock. There's also $4 million for a Bainbridge-Seattle ferry "dolphin replacement project," $475,000 for an "adverse weather operation" in Yakima County, and $200,000 for a "trucker congestion notification system" in Tacoma. She also planted $4.6 million in prime transportation fat for a local shipyard to test and evaluate an already-developed patrol boat for the Coast Guard.
More impressively, the senior senator speared a mammoth slab of the other white meat for Boeing, a $20 billion Air Force lease agreement for 100 aerial- refueling jets that Murray tucked into the new $318 billion defense-spending bill. With an assist in the House by veteran porker Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), Murray's leasing and other funding feats were remarkable not only for their old-boy fat content but for the political and media fallout.
Pork-busting Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has criticized Murray's spending. Of the "creative penmanship" to fund the Odyssey museum, he observed, "the sponsor of that project must not have wanted us to really know what the funding was being allocated for." Of the patrol boat, he noted, "The Coast Guard did not request this vessel, does not need this vessel, nor does this vessel meet the Coast Guard's requirements." The Boeing jet lease was a "sweet deal . . . a bailout."
The local daily newspapers have pooh-poohed McCain's objections.
"This sort of financing is done in the private sector all the time," harrumphed The Seattle Times in excusing the corporate welfare for Boeing, Murray's third-largest campaign contributor behind the University of Washington and Microsoft. The P-I said Murray's transportation goodies "upheld a Washington tradition" pioneered by senators Warren Magnuson and Henry Jackson, the late, legendary Gold Dust Twins of pork- barrel politics. "What do they want me to do, send the money to New Jersey?" Maggie liked to say, as if there was no other option for use of the public's money. According to the Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), a D.C. watchdog agency, this kind of mind-set will cost U.S. taxpayers $1.2 trillion in waste, fraud, and mismanagement over the next five years.
Neither paper has yet critically explored Murray's news release claiming that the Boeing lease "will provide thousands of jobs to Washington workers, . . . [an] economic shot in the arm," and be remembered as "a big win for the Air Force."
A closer review of the spending bills and details provided by McCain's office and CAGW shows Murray's legislation adds no jobs and provides no economic stimulus. The 10-year lease of model 767 tankers will not get truly under way for at least two years, and Boeing won't deliver its first plane until 2005. Funding is incremental and has to be appropriated annually. The 767 production jobs already exist, says Boeing. They are merely being retained, or refilled later (there's also a real possibility that many assembly jobs will be moved from Everett to Japan under a pending Boeing deal reported last week).
Moreover, the Air Force will actually lose money on the lease. Compared to buying the planes, the service will pay $4 billion more to use and eventually return them to Boeing. Officials argued they had to lease because budget constraints didn't allow purchase (if there was a message in those constraints, no one got it). The Air Force contends the $4 billion will be offset by the $5.9 billion it would cost to maintain the aging, existing K-135 tankers that will be replaced. But officials didn't mention the cost/loss of ultimately giving back the expensive replacement assets. "How in the world can you justify such a thing?" asks McCain.
For all that spending, the Air Force/ taxpayer will be left with either 1) a deficit of 100 planes or 2) a need for more funds to re-lease or buy the jets anyway. It's not difficult to imagine Murray's budget plea next time: "It would be a waste not to continue the program. After all, we've already spent all this money. . . . " It's either that or New Jersey.