From the Bridge to Nowhere to the Airport for No One - How Public Ignorance Facilitates Porkbarrel Spending:

When the Republicans controlled Congress, they were rightly pilloried for subsidizing such ridiculous porkbarrel projects as the notorious "Bridge to Nowhere." For their part, the Democrats have been funneling money to the equally dubious "Airport for No One:"

If you hate the hubbub of crowded airports, you might want to consider flying out of Johnstown, Pa. The airport sees an average of fewer than 30 people per day, there is never a wait for security, you can park for free right outside the gate, and you are almost guaranteed a row to yourself on any flight.

You might wonder how the region ever had the air traffic demand to justify such a facility. It didn't. But it is located in the district of one of Congress's most unapologetic earmarkers: Democrat John Murtha.

In 20 years, Mr. Murtha has successfully doled out more than $150 million of federal payments to what is now being called the airport for no one. I took a trip to southwestern Pennsylvania to explore how this small town received so much money and whether the John Murtha Airport is a legitimate federal investment.

There are many in Johnstown who see the airport as crucial. Johnstown Chamber of Commerce President Bob Layo tells me: "If the airport isn't paying dividends now, it will in the future." But those dividends appear to be a mirage.

There are a total of 18 flights per week, all of which go to Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C. I was visiting the airport from Washington, but because flights cost a pricey $400, I drove. The drive took less than three and a half hours and cost about $35 in gas—not to mention that it was arguably faster than flying. And this isn't a remote area of the state: Murtha airport is less than two hours from the Pittsburgh airport.

Pork is highly unpopular with most voters. Outrage over pork even helped end Republican control of Congress in 2006. So why does pork persist? In significant part because of widespread political ignorance. As I explained in this 2006 post, Most porkbarrel projects are unknown to the vast majority of the electorate. The only people likely to be aware of them are the small, well-organized interest groups who benefit. Only on very rare occasions (such as the bridge to nowhere) does a particularly egregious project get enough press coverage to enter into the public consciousness. Thus, politicians have incentives to vote for porkbarrel projects despite their unpopularity.

It's true, of course, that some voters like pork that goes to their districts, even if they dislike it in general. However, a well-informed electorate would still force its representatives in Congress to enact a general ban on pork, because most districts lose far more from the porkbarrel projects that go to other parts of the country than they gain from their own. Voter ignorance also explains how politicians from both parties - including President Obama - can get away with promising to eliminate pork and then supporting a bill laden with thousands of new pork projects. In sum, porkbarrel spending is yet another negative aspect of government that is in large part the result of political ignorance.