Remember earmarks? Those special projects that members of Congress called essential to their constituents – but critics called pork?
They were outlawed, but some say they never really went away.
Citizens Against Government Waste, a nonprofit fiscal watchdog group, is releasing Wednesday its “Pig Book,” which details money set aside during the budgeting process for lawmakers’ pet projects. Among its findings are funding for theaters, museums, opera houses and aquatic plant control.
Following scandals like the “Bridge to Nowhere” in Alaska, Congress imposed a moratorium on earmarks in 2011 which has not been lifted. But budget-watchers say that hasn’t stopped the practice. It’s just made finding the projects more difficult.
“There used to be a huge list at the back of the appropriations bill, that’s not there anymore,” said Curtis Kalin, communications director for CAGW.
Its report takes aim at 15 pages worth of programs and their funding in fiscal 2017, the 12 month period that ends Sept. 30.
Kalin said the CAGW uses a more “comprehensive” definition of an earmark than Congress. To be considered pork, a budget item must meet one of seven critera. Those criteria include not being in the President’s budget, serving only a local interest or being requested by only one chamber of Congress.
Among the programs the Pig Book lists is the Appalachian Regional Commission, which it says got $32 million last year. The agency was created by Congress in 1965 to spur economic development in states like West Virginia, Kentucky and the Carolinas. It includes governors of the 13 Appalachian states and a federal co-chair.
“The commission is duplicative of dozens of other programs that exist at the federal, state, and local levels, and unfairly focuses on a region of the country that is no more deserving than other impoverished areas,” the Pig Book charges.
Commission spokesperson Shannon Van Hoesen did not immediately respond to request for comment.
But the commission’s website says “Each year ARC provides funding for several hundred investments in the Appalachian Region, in areas such as business development, education and job training, telecommunications, infrastructure, community development, housing, and transportation.”
President Donald Trump called for the elimination of the commission in his proposed 2018 budget.
The Pig Book also singles out $5 million dollars that went to the Save America’s Treasures program. The grants, administered by the National Park Service, are meant to help preserve historic landmarks around the country. Kalin said it’s not clear how the new money has been spent.
According to the Pig Book, in past years the money has been used to renovate buildings like the Sterling Opera House in Derby, Connecticut.
National Park Service chief spokesman Tom Crosson did not immediately respond to request for comment.
The report also criticized $9 million for aquatic plant control. The report says that 23 earmarks worth $47.1 million have been awarded since 1994. It names Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., as one of those pushing the program.
In a June statement, Schumer defended the project. He said the money is needed to remove Hydrilla, an aquatic weed that he said threatens boating, fishing and tourism industries in his home state.
“A single aquatic plant could put all of that at risk, which is why I am relieved that the federal government heeded my repeated calls to address and remediate Hydrilla in Cayuga Lake,” Schumer said in the statement.
Contact: Anshu Siripurapu at 202-383-600. Twitter: @anshusiripurapu