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Pork: Your tax dollars at work
Government watchdog says pork barrel spending reaches record high.
April 15, 2005: 3:13 PM EDT
by Katie Benner, CNN/Money staff writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Today is the day to send your taxes to Washington D.C., so it's natural to take a moment and think about where the money goes.

Schools. Roads. Homeland security. Of course.

The study of mariachi music in Nevada? Yup, that too.

Tax time happily coincides with the annual Congressional Pig Book, released earlier this month by the non-profit, non-partisan organization Citizens Against Government Waste. There you can find the more questionable expenditures worked into the 2005 fiscal budget.

Along with $25,000 for the Clark County School District in Nevada for "curriculum development to study mariachi music," the CAGW also lists $6.3 million for wood utilization research and $1.7 million for the International Fertilizer Development Association.

"Despite a record $427 billion deficit predicted for fiscal 2005, members of Congress are engaging in the worst form of blatant self-interest; larding the budget with pork for home districts and states," CAGW president Tom Schatz said in a press release.

Pork's fattest year

The CAGW compiled $27.3 billion in what it deems wasteful spending for 2005, up 19 percent from last year's total of $22.9 billion.

According to the CAGW, there was more pork this year than in any other, with Congress stuffing 13,997 supposedly frivolous projects into 13 appropriations bills. This is up 31 percent from 10,656 projects last year.

But before the Pig Book raises too many hackles, economists say the earmarks should be put into perspective.

"Pork is the inevitable feature of the democratic process," said Kevin Hassett, a director of economic policy studies who specializes in tax policy at the American Enterprise Institute.

"Locally elected officials like congressmen often have local concerns at the top of their priority list," he said. "They'll trade support for federal measures for earmarked spending for their districts."

This year's record pork spending amounts to a drop in the bucket of President Bush's last budget proposal coming in at $2.6 trillion for 2005.

Moreover, the past 14 years of pork barrel spending identified by the CAGW adds up to $212 billion -- not even a third of the 2005 federal budget deficit projected by the Congressional Budget Office.

Good pork, bad pork

And is the spending necessarily pork?

For example, the CAGW singled out Senator Ted Stevens for the millions he reaped for Alaska, giving him the Hogzilla Award for amassing $646 million for the sparsely populated state, including a $26 million earmark for a rural community advancement program for Alaskan villages.

The expenditure seems less frivolous when you take into account that the people affected by the program live in a place so underdeveloped they are forced to use buckets when a town waterpipe bursts, said a spokeswoman from Sen. Stevens office.

"We have half of the country's coastline, the most federal lands, the federal government is the state's No. 1 employer and we're twice the size of Texas," said Courteney Boone, the senator's press secretary.

"It takes a lot of money to run the state, and using federal money is not unreasonable," she added.

Click here for the lowdown on tax time.  Top of page

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