Stateline Story

Alaska No. 1 in 'pork' per capita, again

Alaska — infamous for its federally funded "bridges to nowhere" — ranked first in per-capita federal spending for pork-barrel projects in 2005, a distinction it has held for the past 16 years.

Hawaii came in second, and Georgia ranked last, according to the "2006 Congressional Pig Book," compiled by Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), a private, nonpartisan research group.

The report, released April 4, was the 16 th annual exposé of what the group calls "the most glaring and irresponsible pork-barrel projects" in congressional appropriations bills.

The number of pork-barrel projects approved by Congress last year dropped by 29 percent, but the dollar level increased from $27.3 billion last year to $29 billion for fiscal 2006. The new report and database offer 9,963 examples of what the group calls wasteful federal spending, searchable by state.

CAGW defines pork as a line item in a federal appropriations bill that designates U.S. tax dollars for a local project "in circumvention of established congressional budget procedures." Typically, pork-barrel projects are not competitively awarded or requested by the president, and are not the subject of congressional hearings, CAGW said.

Last year, Alaska received a widely publicized federal appropriation of $453 million for two bridges in remote areas of the state. In the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and during a time of congressional belt-tightening, the project quickly became an embarrassment to the state.

Alaska citizens proposed giving the money back to Congress to spend on rebuilding the Gulf Coast, and Gov. Frank Murkowski (R) proposed a state-funded public relations campaign to clean up Alaska's reputation for milking U.S. taxpayers. Despite the citizens' pleas, Alaska did not give back the money.

Although Alaska led the nation with $489 per capita ($325 million), it was less than half of the state's 2005 per-capita number of $985. CAGW attributed Alaska's drop to Sen. Ted Stevens' (R-Alaska) descent from the chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Every state has two senators, but states with the biggest per-capita appropriations tend to have senators on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

Hawaii, whose Sen. Daniel Inouye (D) is a ranking member of the committee, received $378 per capita (a total of $482 million), and West Virginia, represented on the appropriations committee by Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D), received $182 per person ($239 million). That compares to $12.06 per-capita spending on Georgia, which is not represented on the committee.

Alabama, represented on the committee by Sen. Richard Shelby (R), received more than $100 million for a variety of education-related projects, including $250,000 for Girls Inc. of Alabama, described as "a national nonprofit youth organization dedicated to inspiring all girls to be strong, smart, and bold." With more than $14 million in existing funding, CAGW quipped that "Girls Inc. is strong enough not to need a federal handout, but smart and bold enough to ask for and accept one."

The state also received $2.3 million for a project designed to develop environmentally friendly farming techniques for use by developing countries. The project — located in the district of House appropriations committee member Rep. Robert Cramer (D-Ala.) — has been funded for nine years. This year's grant was 26 percent higher than last year's.

Washington state was cited for a special "Hog Heaven Award" for its $8.2 million appropriation for the St. Lewis Army Chapel, which offers services for Christians, Jews, Muslims and Wiccans.
Pennsylvania — home to ground hog weather-watcher Punxsutawney Phil — received the "Burrowing a Hole in our Wallets Award" for a $100,000 grant for a weather museum.

What's wrong with the time-honored congressional tradition of looking out for constituents?

According to CAGW, the practice is inherently unfair and wasteful. The group argues that taxpayers in all 50 states should not pay for projects that benefit only one state. The projects may be worthy, CAGW says, but they aren't likely to be held as accountable as projects using state or local funds.

"It makes no sense for tax dollars to be sent on a roundtrip to Washington … to be fought over and doled out on the basis of political favoritism," the group argues.

Some members of Congress argue that federal appropriations for their states create jobs and provide worthwhile benefits to local citizens. But others, such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), staunchly oppose pork-barrel spending, arguing that economic development should come from local investment, not federal handouts.

Founded in 1984 by the late industrialist J. Peter Grace and syndicated columnist Jack Anderson, CAGW is an outgrowth of the Grace Commission, which was established in 1982 by President Reagan to "work like tireless bloodhounds to root out government inefficiency and waste of tax dollars."