News release from Beacon Center of Tennessee:
NASHVILLE – The Beacon Center of Tennessee today released its eighth annual Tennessee Pork Report, exposing more than $511 million squandered by state and local governments over the past year. The annual report published by the Beacon Center, the state’s leading free market think tank and taxpayer watchdog, is the only one of its kind in Tennessee.
Examples of wasteful spending outlined in the 2013 Pork Report include:
•A corporate welfare deal gone sour, costing taxpayers $95 million after Hemlock Semiconductor closed its plant and laid off hundreds of workers;
•$73 million in improper unemployment benefits, including cash paid to existing state workers and the deceased, of which only $15.3 million has been recouped;
•Wasteful film incentives to Hollywood elites totaling $13.5 million;
Along with a $266,000 rooftop sign and $500,000 for a museum in Virginia, a self-proclaimed government watchdog group Tuesday included “corporate welfare” to businesses in a listing of Tennessee pork barrel spending.
This year’s “Tennessee pork report” includes $40 million in “headquarters relocation assistance” to companies moving their main offices to Tennessee, a $1.5 million grant to General Motors and $2 million to “incentivize production of TV shows and movies” within the state as examples of wasteful spending of tax dollars.
Gov. Bill Haslam, perhaps not unexpectedly, disagreed with the categorization when questioned by reporters.
“The truth is, in economic development, we live in a very competitive world. We’re not going to just unilaterally disarm” by ending state financial support to new or expanding businesses, Haslam said.
He added that “government waste has our full attention,” though “government waste is obviously defined differently by different people.”
The Beacon Center of Tennessee definition in this year’s “pork report” includes:
-$266,000 given by the state to Volkswagen to put a sign atop its Chattanooga plant that is visible only from the air, also characterized as “corporate welfare.” It’s near the Chattanooga airport, but Beacon Center said that only about 500 people per day fly in or out of the airport.
-The $500,000 grant included in the coming year’s state budget at the urging of Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey for a “Birthplace of Country Music” museum in Bristol, Va., just across the Tennessee state line. “That just goes to show state government waste doesn’t stop at the state line,” said Justin Owen, president of Beacon Center.
-$1.5 million spend on “a mansion and lavish furnishings” by the Upper Cumberland Development District, which was designated “pork of the year.” According to television news reports, the organization’s executive director, Whitney Askins, moved into the mansion, though it was designated to serve as housing for needy seniors. She has since been placed on administrative leave.
-$1.3 million in deficit spending at state-owned golf courses.
Beacon Center said it had listed $468 million in “pork,” up from $371 million in last year’s “pork report.: Most involves state government – ranging from such large items as $25 million for building a West Tennessee “megasite” for industry recruitment to a $50,000 grant to the National Folk Festival, held in Nashville.
But it also includes local government projects, ranging from a collective $22 million in deficit annual spending by various city and county government entities to a $5.8 million property tax break Nashville Metro government gave Dollywood Co. and Gaylord Entertainment for development of a water park in Nashville.
Tennessee Republicans this year had a window of opportunity to trim $23 million from the budget’s pork-barrel buffet that’s annually lain before them in the late hours of the legislative session. But, as often the case, the home-cooked political victuals proved too toothsome to pass up.
They opted instead to heap their plates and hand taxpayers the tab in advance of hitting the exits and heading for yonder hills, dales and campaign trails.
So begins a TNReport review of the end-of-session squabble over “local projects” in the state budget, which includes some fresh quotations. House Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, admitted that the late-stage discernment of waste in the budget ultimately amounted to legislative “gamesmanship” — that, truth be known, there wasn’t much taste on anybody’s part for reducing tasty government handouts sure to wow the folks back home when it comes time for incumbents to brag on what they brung em’.
“It always happens at the end of the year. These are the things you just have to work out and take care of,” Sargent told TNReport.
Nevertheless, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who presides over the Tennessee Senate, said he doesn’t think voters of a fiscally conservative bent ought to be of a mind to make the GOP’s big-spenders pay come election time.
Ramsey, a “huge believer in preserving history, preserving our roots,” suggested it’s natural to make taxpayers pick up the slack when private-sector fundraising for cultural-heritage conservation efforts comes up short.
“I think that fits right into my basic philosophy in general,” said the Blountville auctioneer, who often sells himself as a friend of Tea Party conservatives.
Still, Ramsey conceded not everyone may agree with every aspect of discretionary government spending in the coming year’s budget, especially when you get down to details.
He acknowledged that one of his own rather infamous pet projects — the Birthplace of Country Music Museum — probably “sounded awful” to those of a mind to zero in and identify the particulars of potential government waste. But GOP legislators even in the House rallied around the proposal to capture $500,000 from taxpayers’ wallets to help fund the $13 million as-yet-unfinished tourist trap located in Bristol, Virginia, just across the street and the state line from Bristol, Tennessee.
…”Republicans spend just like Democrats. When you’re in control, you’re going to spend money,” Owen said. “There’s an incentive there to spend taxpayers’ money on things that really don’t benefit taxpayers as a whole, that go to benefit a select few.”
Democrats’ contentions that Senate Republicans had slipped “pork barrel” projects into the state budget derailed plans for passage of the $31 billion plan Wednesday after House Republicans at least partially agreed with them.
The House Finance Committee voted to strip $1.5 million in Senate-approved spending amendments from the budget – including $300,000 for Knoxville’s E.M. Jellinek Center – after a two-hour, closed-door GOP conference triggered by House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey responded by saying House leaders had broken a deal. In effect, Some House members said the same thing of the senators for their action in adding the questioned spending.
In its sixth annual “pork report,’ the Tennessee Center for Policy Research has once again put together a listing of governmental spending deemed wasteful.
This year’s listing (covering 2010) includes such things as $140 million given to Electrolux for building a plant in Memphis (a big chunk of the $371 million total), grants from the Tennessee Solar Institute, a rebate for purchase of electric cars and $6.8 million to purchase land for conservation purposes.
From the TCPR news release (available HERE): “Yet again, state and local governments failed to live up to taxpayers’ expectations by wasting their hard-earned money,” said Justin Owen, president of the Tennessee Center for Policy Research. “With our economy in dire straits, the last thing government officials should be doing is offering handouts to corporations, dreaming up whimsical environmental programs, and using taxpayer money for their personal use. It’s time for them to become better stewards of Tennesseans’ money.”
The full “pork report” is available HERE. UPDATE: For a different perspective on the pork report, see Cup of Joe Powell’s post on the matter.