For Whom the Bridge Tolls

Politicians want pork to pay for Golden Gate increases, but the money should be paid by drivers instead.

It's not unusual for local leaders to trek to Washington holding their hands out, and it's only fair to note that this is how road projects have generally been financed in the past — to disastrous, polluting, sprawling effect. With the status quo in mind, Pelosi's office suggests she may seek more federal earmarks to finance the project, notwithstanding Democrats' 2006 pledge to reduce Washington pork-barrel spending. Pelosi "hopes to reduce the funding gap for the project through the appropriations process and the next surface transportation bill, but the successful resolution of this issue will take the hard work and cooperation from all levels of government," a spokesman said.

"It's a political reality," Leno adds. "She's the most powerful member of the House of Representatives, and there's some benefit to that."

No surprises there. What has been remarkable, however, is the way officials in supposedly environmentally sensitive Marin County have lately made this into a social-justice cause.

Politicians at last week's Golden Gate Bridge board meeting described the proposed toll increases as an attack on the proletariat, notwithstanding the fact that the U.S. census shows fewer than 3,000 poor residents in Marin, and that those who use the bridge could be helped far more efficiently with direct transportation assistance. Depending on how you measure income, Marin is either the richest or fourth-richest county in America. A resident commuting to the San Francisco Financial District — for which Marin is a bedroom community — is already likely to pay around $55 per commute in gas, car maintenance, and parking fees.

If Bay Area politicians follow through with plans to lobby aggressively in Washington so these ecosensitive constituents can avoid paying a dollar or so more in tolls, I can't wait to see the Republican attack ads pointing out the irony.

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