Cooper: Counting the pork and bacon

Cooper: Counting the pork and bacon

July 22nd, 2016 by Clint Cooper in Opinion Free Press

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger announces in June 2015 he is vetoing the County Commission's amended budget after it reinstated discretionary funds he had removed from the budget.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

As ever in politics, one person's pork is another person's crispy, delectable bacon.

We're glad the Beacon Center of Tennessee, which bills itself as "an independent, nonprofit and nonpartisan research organization," prepares an annual "Pork Report," which is said to unearth wasteful government spending.

It lists $480 million in projects that Tennessee taxpayers — whether they wanted to or not — have paid for. If there is a bright side to this year's report, the dollar amount for projects identified as wasteful by the Beacon Center is 36 percent below last year's record of $750 million.

Among the biggest offenders in the Chattanooga area was the Hamilton County Commission, which took $900,000 from the county's rainy day fund and put the money under the auspices — at $100,000 apiece — of its nine commissioners. Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger, citing a tight budget, had removed what had become traditional discretionary spending from the fiscal 2016 budget. Six commissioners voted to add it back, forcing Coppinger to veto his own budget. The same six commissioners then voted to override the veto and add in the discretionary money.

Fortunately, when the mayor didn't include the funds in the fiscal 2017 budget, commissioners were smart enough not to try to pull the same stunt. We'll see at re-election time in 2018 if any of them pay with their seats for the money grab.

The report also cited $125,000 the now-indicted accounting director of the South Pittsburg Housing Authority "stole from taxpayers for personal purchases."

While we in general agree the government shouldn't be trying to pick winners and losers, we're more concerned about the above two instances and less so about the likes of $200,000 budget appropriations given to the Tennessee Aquarium and the Chattanooga Zoo. Such attractions draw people, who generate sales tax revenue to cities, which are then able to help fund the services they promise their residents.

Still, it's always amusing — in a sad sort of way — to check out the more egregious pork consumers. Some of our favorites in the 2016 report include $18.5 million to the Metro Nashville Police Department for a study of whether to relocate its headquarters; $3 million in repairs to the 4-year-old Strawberry Plains campus of Pellissippi State Community College for the likes of an entrance upgrade and courtyard improvements; $1.28 million to the office of new Democratic Nashville Mayor Megan Barry for cosmetic renovations to her office; and $130,000 to Barry's new Mayor's Office of New Americans to serve immigrants — all legal ones, we're sure — and get them in engaged in community events.

If we could see a similar percentage drop in the 2017 report, as occurred from 2015 to 2016, we'll know state and local governments may have become convinced somebody — perhaps a state full of somebodies — is watching.

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