DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
Tomorrow night the city of Bozeman, Montana, may do something unheard of. Congress earmarked $4 million in federal funds to build a parking garage there. Now the city commission will consider a proposal to give the money back. As NPR's Kathleen Schalch reports, it's part of a grassroots push to slash pork-barrel spending and use the money to help hurricane victims instead.
KATHLEEN SCHALCH reporting:
The idea came to Tracy Velasquez of Bozeman as she was wondering what her community could do. She got to thinking about the new highway bill, which showered federal funds on lawmakers' pet projects all over the nation. Bozeman's prize was the parking garage.
Ms. TRACY VELASQUEZ: You know, it's not that we can't use a parking garage. But on a scale of necessities, it seems like the nation has really big priorities now, and maybe America shouldn't be helping us pay for a parking garage. Maybe we need to figure out how to pay for that ourselves right now.
SCHALCH: A similar idea occurred to University of Tennessee law professor and blogger Glenn Reynolds. He and a colleague, NZ Bear, set up a new Porkbusters Web site and invited people to identify unnecessary spending in their own congressional districts. Readers quickly posted hundreds of entries.
Professor GLENN REYNOLDS (University of Tennessee): A lot of this stuff really--to hear about it is to laugh.
SCHALCH: Reynolds begins scrolling down the list.
Prof. REYNOLDS: All right. Here's one in Arkansas, a $37 million road project which will provide access to a Wal-Mart. In Pennsylvania, $200,000 for the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum at the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center. That's of hugely national importance, I suppose.
SCHALCH: Then, he says, there's everyone's favorit, dubbed `Alaska's bridge to nowhere.'
Prof. REYNOLDS: The bridge from Ketchikan to Gravina Airport. It's as long as the Golden Gate Bridge and costs several hundred million dollars so that people can avoid a six-minute ferry ride.
SCHALCH: Reynolds says the huge response to the site shows that people's disgust with wasteful federal spending has reached a tipping point. The site asks readers to take action, to contact their members of Congress and ask them to examine their own pork and then trim some. Web co-designer NZ Bear has added a page to gauge how well this is working.
Mr. NZ BEAR (Co-designer, Porkbusters): It shows which congressmen, congresswomen, senators, have actually made commitments to cut projects in their district or state.
SCHALCH: The first legislator to pop up on the site was House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. She says her constituents will understand the need to sacrifice.
Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; Minority Leader): People are helpless, and so you have to make decisions and give priorities.
SCHALCH: Initially Pelosi offered to return $70 million allotted to her California district in the highway bill, but she quickly decided that the bulk of the money slated to bolster the actual Golden Gate Bridge against an earthquake needed to stay put. A few more members of Congress have shown up on the site since then, but it's not clear they're really prepared to pare their own pork. Several Republicans suggested freezing non-defense discretionary spending in everyone's district. Again, NZ Bear.
Mr. BEAR: We are eagerly waiting to see who else will step up to the plate and make commitments to cut in their district.
SCHALCH: Washington political columnist Jonah Goldberg remains skeptical. He says hoping politicians will cut pork is like hoping ice cream won't melt. He said they'd risk hearing this from their next political rival.
Mr. JONAH GOLDBERG (Political Columnist): `Our guy is screwing us at home for the benefit of other people. Doesn't he care more about Yada-Hey Flats(ph), Nebraska, than he does about New Orleans? I don't think so. Vote for me.'
SCHALCH: Bozeman's city commission may or may not decide to sacrifice a new parking garage to help fund hurricane relief. But Montana's two senators have already made their positions clear. They say it's a non-starter. Kathleen Schalch, NPR News, Washington.
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