Heaping of pork served in 2012
Posted: Friday, June 29, 2012 3:00 pm
By: Justin Owen, Special to The Press
With politicians in Washington who spend like drunken sailors, it’s easy for Tennesseans to forget that elected officials closer to home also impact their lives. State and local officials control a significant amount of taxpayer money, and all too often they blow it in the worst of ways.
Fortunately, the Beacon Center of Tennessee, our state’s free market think tank, puts a target on the most egregious spending every year, documenting government waste in our annual Pork Report. In the first seven years of this annual rite, we have uncovered more than $2 billion in waste, fraud, and abuse right here in Tennessee.
This year is no different. While our state lawmakers balanced the budget and cut taxes significantly, they still managed to squeeze in their fair share of pork. Possibly the most ridiculous example will not even be spent in Tennessee. Legislators directed $500,000 to a country music museum in Bristol … Virginia.
Although the museum will sit a stone’s throw away from the state line, it nonetheless exhibits that there are no limits — quite literally — to wasteful spending. State lawmakers had an affinity for arts and entertainment this session, also spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on other museums and festivals (at least all of these were within our state’s borders).
Legislators even poured $2 million into film incentives to lure Hollywood to Tennessee, a proposition that has failed to give taxpayers in many other states their 15 minutes of fame.
Local governments got in on the tourism action as well. The city of Nashville awarded Dollywood and Gaylord Entertainment with $5.8 million in property tax breaks over the next 12 years. In return, the two giant companies plan to build a water and snow park near the old Opryland theme park site, which they probably would have built anyway without the taxpayer handout.
Some of the wasteful spending has become an annual tradition. The state continues to cling to government-owned golf courses, with taxpayers bailing out the state’s nine courses to the tune of $1.3 million this past year alone.
In other news, Shelby County Commissioner Sidney Chism would starve without his taxpayer pork. Local taxpayers foot a $25,000-a-year bill to feed commissioners meals while they work, on top of the nearly $2,500 a month stipend they receive as part-time public servants. When other commissioners sought to ban the free meals to save taxpayer money, Chism literally claimed he would “starve to death” as a result.
In all, taxpayers across Tennessee forked over a whopping $468 million in government waste this year, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The Pork Report only records the worst offenses that we can fit into a few dozen pages; listing all the wasteful spending in the state could fill an entire library.
It’s imperative that Tennessee citizens keep a watchful eye on how politicians spend their hard-earned money. With families and businesses tightening their belts to make ends meet, the least they should expect is for the politicians that represent them to do the same.
Editor’s note: Justin Owen is president & CEO of the Beacon Center of Tennessee, the state’s free market think tank. Visit online and download a copy of the 2012 Pork Report at www.BeaconTN.org.