Hots on for Nowhere

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TPMMuckracker's Laura McGann catches Alaska's congressional delegation trying to resurrect the "Bridge to Nowhere" that Tom Coburn, King Arthur-like, has been vainly hacking away at for almost two years.

Why bother to invest in infrastructure to nowhere?

Well, it could make the remote area, called "Knik Arm," a major suburb, but more importantly, folks with familial and political ties to Republican Rep. Don Young and Sens. Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski would profit [from Roll Call]:

If the area is successfully developed, that could mean a significant windfall for a number of people close to the Congressional delegation — including Young's daughter, Joni, Stevens' chief of staff and campaign manager and Murkowski's state director — some of whom purchased land in the area just a few months before then-Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Young began substantive work on a massive highway bill in early 2003.

Katherine Mangu-Ward wrote a small profile of Coburn in November (and I've got a longer one in the next reason.) In September she summed up the successful—we thought!—battle to thwart the Alaskans' plot to bring bridges to the void.

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  1. This is straight out of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

  2. They sell this crap to voters as “bringing home economic development” and “helping the local economy”. The truth is anything but. Generally, federal government spending doesn’t do a damn thing for the local economy. Back in the day, when you could get a whole air force base or a NASA headquarters, yeah it helped the local economy. But those kinds of projects really don’t happen anymore. We don’t build new air force bases. Instead, it is death by a million cuts for fiscal sanity. All these little projects, bridges, research centers, grants and the like that don’t do anything for the average voter and do nothing for the district’s economy as a whole. What they do do, however, it get congressman’s friends and relatives rich. These projects are not about buying votes. If they were about buying votes, they wouldn’t be earmarks stuck in in secret. Afterall, the voters have to know about the project in order to be bought. They are much more vile, they are about getting connected people wealthy. The connected people then can give campaign contributions and jobs to your kids and maybe even a flat out piece of the action to your kids.

  3. it could make the remote area, called “Knik Arm,” a major suburb,

    Yeah. Right. Knik Arm will never be a major anything.

  4. I just saw that John posted a comment, but I didn’t read it yet.

    I think it’s going to read, “the Democrats were worse, Reason is always picking on the Republicans.”

    Now I’m going to hit Submit Comment, and THEN read what John wrote.

  5. Wow, look at that.

    John, that’s one in your column.

  6. Back in the day, when you could get a whole air force base or a NASA headquarters, yeah it helped the local economy.

    I would argue that even this is false. The government must commandeer resources needed for these things or else they would not be built. If the government had not commandeered those resources, they would be used by their owners to build things that the owners thought were useful.

    Thus, when the government builds an air force base, it is at the expense of goods that people wanted more that were not made.

    The economy, as a whole, is never made better off by government spending. Well, that is not quite correct; in the sectors of the economy that the government monopolizes, if the government does do an adequate job, it can stimulate activity, just as when the mob hires more truckers to make deliveries to the garment district, it can improve commerce there.

  7. joe, I suggest you read the posts first, before you embarrass yourself any further.

    🙂

  8. I always think the guy on the cover of Presence looks like Charles Grodin.

  9. Amazing that Alaska can’t build this thing with their own money if it is so darn important.

    Isn’t their income tax high enough? Oh yea, they don’t have one, they are soaking oil companies and they send checks out to all of their citizens from oil revenue.

    No State income or sales tax, plus they drop cash on their citizens every year, but they can’t afford to pay for their own bridge. Amazing.

  10. thoreau,

    Should I compare and contrast Alaska with, well, you know? Maybe we could swap it and keep all of our flags as is?

  11. R C Dean | May 14, 2007, 2:44pm | #
    it could make the remote area, called “Knik Arm,” a major suburb,
    Yeah. Right. Knik Arm will never be a major anything.

    I don’t know where you live RC, but I reside in Anchorage (for now, muahahahahha). The local population here has boomed in the last 10 years and due to some interesting restrictions(geographical and political) there is nowhere for the city to spread. Right now, most people are expanding into the Mat/Su valley which is a no-traffic commute of 45 minutes (closer to two hours with traffic and snow). This bridge would actually be of use and would allow the city to expand it’s housing infrastructure.

    That all being laid out, Guy Montag is right. If the city of Anchorage (1/3 of the state’s population) feels that it is such a desirable thing, they should attempt to raise the funds themselves, or at worst the state should attempt to do so without federal funding. For those who missed Guy’s link, Alaska has no state income or sales tax. The only two sources of revenue this state currently relies on is taxing oil and gas companies through the nose and the largess that Ted “Blocked Tubes” Steven’s can rake in.

  12. Kwix,

    How do you like Anchoage? I applied for a job up there. My friends who have lived there love it, but my wife isn’t buying.

    To your point, if it is that damned important, Anchorage should just issue bonds, build the bridge and pay for it with toll collection. There is no reason why the bridge can’t be built sans federal money.

  13. To your point, if it is that damned important, Anchorage should just issue bonds, build the bridge and pay for it with toll collection. There is no reason why the bridge can’t be built sans federal money.

    Or, as a State, they could jump on the Hillary solution: take more of the “profits” from the oil companies, or even shave down some of those checks they toss out to anybody Alaskan.

  14. John,
    It’s okay. It has a semi-metropolitan feel but you are only an hour away from Alaska. 😀

    Seriously, the town is only about 200-250k but it has quite a bit of culture/entertainment options. I suspect a bit of that has to do with years of democratic mayorship/governorship. The housing market here is just starting to slow down, though if they start construction on a gas pipe line in the next few years I expect it to boom again.

    The city itself is decidedly leftist, they just outlawed smoking in all bars and restaurants and are pushing for stricter gun controls on the public (“out of control gangs don’t you know”), but the state as a whole is relatively conservative (gay-marriage ban, super free gun rights, etc.). Sadly, gone are the days of “leave me the hell alone” libertarianism. I suppose it’s like the other western states, the more world-connected they become the more statist they act.

  15. Oh, and I failed to address your point about the bridge. Yes, a bond/toll option would be a very valid method of generating the requisite funds but it is pretty much political suicide for it to be suggested. People here are so used to “Uncle Ted” dragging in federal dollars over the last 20 years that they don’t know what it means to be self sufficient. See for reference the November 2005 issue of Alaska Magazine cover story.

  16. Thanks for the info quick. Sorry to hear about the demise of the “leave me the hell alone” libertarianism. I suspect the migration out of California has something to do with that.

  17. The Kurdkon.

  18. Are that many people from California really moving to AK? That seems a bit adventurous for most California escapees, compared to Washington or Oregon.

    We’ve thought about it – settling into a family compound somewhere scenic is sounding increasingly attractive as our home values continue to appreciate ludicrously – but we are most definitely “leave me the hell alone” types.

  19. “Are that many people from California really moving to AK? That seems a bit adventurous for most California escapees, compared to Washington or Oregon.”

    That is true but Alaska has a smaller population, so it takes a lot fewer to make a difference in the politics. Just a guess on my part, don’t know if it is true.

  20. These projects are not about buying votes

    I’m not going to defend earmarks or pork in general, but, yeah these projects are about “buying” votes. When I worked on the Hill, we’d shout from the rooftops all the earmarks we got. There’s no secret, it’s just a complicated process. All the info is online, you just have to figure out how to read the bill reports.

    Again, I’m not defending the process, just pointing out that in the vast majority of cases, it’s not some nefarious scheme to enrich relatives, and is all about securing votes.

  21. I live in Anchorage and regard the Knik bridge as a travesty. It won’t save the folks already in the Mat-Su any commute time. It is pork barrel politics of the worst kind. There is a ‘bridge authority’ now that is talking about something like an $8 toll to cross the bridge. It’s just ludicrous. The population up here is nowhere near sold on the idea, even with the ‘free’ money Uncle Ted and Don Young get for us.

    BTW, a 20 ounce bottle of soda goes for $1.50 up here and my combined gas/electric bills in January were over $600 so it’s not all free manna from heaven up here, but the resources belong to the state and the state belongs to the people so why shouldn’t the resources be used to pay state infrastructure and a small dividend to the people? Sounds pretty libertarian to me.

  22. …the resources belong to the state…

    Sounds pretty libertarian to me.

    You’re missing a smiley.

  23. “Again, I’m not defending the process, just pointing out that in the vast majority of cases, it’s not some nefarious scheme to enrich relatives, and is all about securing votes.”

    I disagree. Who benefits from the pork? A select group of connected people. Yeah, they of course sell the pork as “good for the whole district” but that is 100% bullshit. These projects don’t benefit the local economy. They benefit a few connected people. If they weren’t getting someone rich, they wouldn’t be getting done. Convincing the local boobs that wasting their tax money is really good for them, is just an added bonus.

  24. How do you think it works, John? The Congressman gets a bunch of money appropriated and then just hands it over to his buddy who owns a construction firm for him to do the work?

  25. I have no love for Ted Stevens or any other Alaska politician, but I’d imagine it would be hard to request funding for a major public works project that didn’t ultimately benefit them or their buddies. There just aren’t that many people there.

    As for Anchorage itself, my brother lives there. He teaches high school and my sister-in-law is a professor at UAA. They moved there from Tucson about four or five years ago, and they like it hell of a lot more in Anchorage than they did in Tucson, and my nieces love it too. I’ve only visited in the summer, so I can’t give a full picture, but I’ve always really enjoyed it there. It’s a neat town, and it seems like you’re about five minutes from being in the wilderness. The drive from Anchorage to Homer and/or Seward is gorgeous.

    And it seems like everyone has at least one Subaru.

  26. Bruce,
    A 20 ounce soda is $1.50 everywhere.

  27. Seriously, the town is only about 200-250k

    A town the size of Anchorage would barely be a major suburb of Dallas. I submit that none of the “suburbs” of Anchorage can ever be a major anything, at least until they grow larger than Anchorage itself.

    And I say this as a small town boy. The minute I can afford it, I will give up my fancy big city job and move to a town with a five figure population.

  28. The Congressman gets a bunch of money appropriated and then just hands it over to his buddy who owns a construction firm for him to do the work?

    Pretty much, yeah. At least, that seems to happen way to often for it to be a coincidence. Sure, there may be a few middlemen along the way, but the end result is the same.

  29. Bruce,
    A 20 ounce soda is $1.50 everywhere.

    And you are not paying sales tax.

    Ex-girlfriend who has a tiny place in southern Illinois paid over $400 or so in utility bills last month, without a check from the oil producers transferred through Springfield.

  30. I live in Anchorage and regard the Knik bridge as a travesty. It won’t save the folks already in the Mat-Su any commute time. It is pork barrel politics of the worst kind. There is a ‘bridge authority’ now that is talking about something like an $8 toll to cross the bridge. It’s just ludicrous. The population up here is nowhere near sold on the idea, even with the ‘free’ money Uncle Ted and Don Young get for us.

    Well, no shit it won’t save people who already live in the valley commute time, but it will open up land in the Point Mackenzie area (currently mostly farmed land and chip mill timberlands) to suburban development and people living there will have 30-45 minute commutes instead of 2 hours.

    You are probably right that the population of Anchorage is “nowhere near sold on the idea”. This is one more argument for non-federal funding of the bridge but I see no problem with a bond/toll setup to fund the bridge as it give the potential bond holders the ability to choose if and when the bridge is built. If residents look at the cost/benefit of it and decide that right now, housing costs are not high enough and commuting costs aren’t high enough and the bridge won’t make it’s construction costs back in a reasonable time so it isn’t worth building it right now, then so be it. I’d rather that than Uncle Ted threating to quit (but not doing it) if he didn’t get his way of swindling tax payers out of cash to help fill his family’s coffers.

  31. Of course, It should not be necessary but I will mention that when I say “bond/toll” I don’t mean Municipal bonds on property taxes. I mean it in the traditional “buy a bond and become a shareholder in the toll bridge” way. IOW, the bridge should be a private business, not a government boondoggle.

  32. I’m surprised none of my fellow Anchoragites have pointed out that the “Knik Arm” isn’t the area that would be opend up by the bridge, rather, it’s the name of the body of water the bridge would span (i.e. the Knik arm of the Cook Inlet.)

    Aside from that, I agree that this should be paid for by the city of Anchorage (or possibly by the state, or a combination of both) and not by the Feds.

  33. Buy your own bridge you oil leech lazy asses.

  34. And screw every “Republican” from your state.

  35. Of course, It should not be necessary but I will mention that when I say “bond/toll” I don’t mean Municipal bonds on property taxes. I mean it in the traditional “buy a bond and become a shareholder in the toll bridge” way. IOW, the bridge should be a private business, not a government boondoggle.

    Slight technical point. If you are a bond holder you have leant money to the owners and they promise to pay you interest on the bonds, but you have no liability for the misdeeds of the owners (other than not getting paid in a worst-case situation). Selling shares would be selling ownership.

    From what it sounds like up there, even if you owned the bridge the State would figure out how to take your profits away, the same way they do to the oil companies.

  36. I live in Anchorage and agree that it’s our responsibility to pay for it. I also would like to bitch-slap the retards that call it a “Bridge to Nowhere” and haven’t so much as looked a map to see what “Nowhere” constitutes.

  37. I live in Anchorage and agree that it’s our responsibility to pay for it. I also would like to bitch-slap the retards that call it a “Bridge to Nowhere” and haven’t so much as looked a map to see what “Nowhere” constitutes.

    It seems that some people who call it a “Bridge to Nowhere” do in fact know what the local areas are called. “Nowhere” suffices for me though.

    Dubbed the “Bridge to Nowhere,” the bridge in Alaska would connect the town of Ketchikan (population 8,900) with its airport on the Island of Gravina (population 50) at a cost to federal taxpayers of $320 million, by way of three separate earmarks in the recent highway bill.

    http://www.heritage.org/Research/Budget/wm889.cfm

  38. black_box:

    The original post states:

    Well, it could make the remote area, called “Knik Arm,” a major suburb,…

    You’ve got the wrong “Nowhere”. Knik and Gravina Island are separated by a crow’s flight approaching nearly 1,000 miles. Try again.

  39. Doug A,

    It really does not matter where the stupid thing is supposed to go, you hit it on the head with it is your responsibility, not ours.

    Perhaps all of those Ankoridigians will pool their oil checks and build it to make us silly 48ers look so silly.

  40. You are probably right that the population of Anchorage is “nowhere near sold on the idea”.

    My unscientific survey of one person (my brother), shows that 100% of Anchorage residents don’t think the bridge is a good idea.

  41. My unscientific survey of one person (my brother), shows that 100% of Anchorage residents don’t think the bridge is a good idea.

    If he is a Democrat then that is a concensus, like losing Iraq.

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