- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 7, 2004

Congress spent $22.9 billion on unauthorized and often frivolous projects earmarked in appropriations bills this year, according to a study by Citizens Against Government Waste.

The spending hawks introduced their 12th annual “Pig Book” yesterday, which details the 630 most egregious “pork barrel” projects approved by Congress.

Wasteful expenditures went up 13 percent this year, with 10,656 dubious projects targeted for public funds. In 2003, there were 9,362 projects tagged as “swine,” with a $22.5 billion price tag to taxpayers.

“Our problem with these projects is they are an insult to taxpayers considering the process of how they are achieved … they are inserted into bills without authorization in the dead of night, when there is no access by the media or members of Congress,” said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican.

Mr. McCain has no “pork” projects among the 630 listed.

The group said the most egregious example of last-minute, clandestine payouts was in the Veterans Affairs-Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill.

A $100,000 gift was added to renovate a Coca-Cola building in Macon, Ga. The Coca-Cola Co. earned more than $675 million last year. The project is listed among the top five wasteful-spending projects. However, it is not clear who sponsored the funding.

Mr. McCain said one of his favorite pork projects this year is the $200,000 allocated for recreation improvements for the about 1,570 residents of North Pole, Alaska, called for by Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican.

Mr. Stevens received the “Whole Hog” award the second straight year and the “Tax Payers Get Scrooged” award for the North Pole project, whose funding topped $2 million.

“That is $133 per person. I wonder what recreation there is to do in the North Pole that costs that much,” Mr. McCain said.

Another project Mr. McCain cited involved $50 million to build an indoor tropical rain forest in Coralville, Iowa, pushed by Republican Sen. Charles E. Grassley, who leads the Senate Finance Committee. He received the “Soaking the Taxpayers” award.

“And that is only a down payment for this $225 million tropical boondoggle,” said Thomas A. Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste.

Mr. Schatz said with the country fighting a war in Iraq, staring down a bottomless pit of a $521 billion debt and facing a Medicare prescription-drug bill 33 percent higher than originally projected, Congress should be trying to save money.

Mr. Grassley said developing tourism dollars was a key motivation behind the rain-forest project. He said it has the potential to generate $1 billion for his state in the next 10 years.

“The not-for-profit rain-forest project in Iowa provides opportunities for education, research, economic development and environmental cleanup … expected to attract 1.5 million visitors each year,” Mr. Grassley said.

He added that the federal payment he sponsored for that project is a fraction of the total cost and that more than 70 percent of the funding would be covered by private benefactors and other sources.

The states with the highest per capita “pork” spending were Alaska and Hawaii. That was no surprise to Mr. McCain and Mr. Schatz, because Mr. Stevens is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, Hawaii Democrat, is a member of that panel.

The watchdog group found $524 million in “pork” projects approved by the committee that were pushed by Mr. Stevens and average to $818.13 per person in his state. As for Hawaii, Mr. Inouye successfully lobbied for $494 million in funding, or $392.92 per person in that state. The average per-person funding for these types of projects among the 50 states was $31.17, the group says.

Among the other award recipients was Rep. Jim Gibbons, Nevada Republican, who won the “Drowning in Red Ink” honor for tossing $225,000 in taxpayer money to his hometown of Sparks to rehabilitate the Deer Park Pool.

Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, took home the “Hall of Shame” award reserved for long-term senators with a history of frivolous spending measures under their belt. In Mr. Specter’s case, the honor was for 23 years as a “master purveyor of pork,” the group says.

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