There's pork aplenty in that 'bare bones' budget

November 04, 1990|By Washington Bureau of The Sun This article was reported by Richard H.P. Sia, Dan Fesperman, Stephen E. Nordlinger, Tom Bowman and Peter Honey of The Sun's Washington Bureau. It was written by Dan Fesperman.

WASHINGTON -- On Capitol Hill it is known as the "bare bones" budget -- the leanest and meanest in years, lawmakers said.

It is so lean and mean, in fact, that further cuts would have been more painful than a pre-election tax increase, Congress decided. So, risking the wrath of their constituents, the members voted to raise income taxes as well as the taxes on gasoline, cigarettes, alcoholic beverages and luxury items.

Despite all this lean and mean, the follow ing 10 items ended up in the budget:

* $405 million to overhaul the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy, beginning in 1993, at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard -- a facility the Pentagon wanted to close in 1992.

* A $250 million tax break over the next five years for a select group of insurance companies that do business through branch offices, not subsidiaries, in foreign countries "not contiguous to the United States." The bulk of this break will go to the Georgia-based American Family Corp., whose political action committee happens to be the insurance industry's most generous contributor to national political campaigns. About 93 percent of the company's pre-tax insurance income comes from its sales of cancer policies in Japan.

* $15 million to build a children's museum, the Liberty Science Center, in northern New Jersey, just across New York Harbor from the Statue of Liberty. What department pays for this? The Department of Defense.

* $10 million, also from the defense budget, to create a National Drug Intelligence Center for the Justice Department, a facility that national drug enforcement officials said

they did not want or need. But if they had to get one, they wanted it in Washington. This one will be in Pennsylvania -- home state of the sponsors.

* A $4 million tax break for manufacturers of "large cigars" to help cushion the blow of higher tobacco taxes on the industry, much of which is based in Tampa, Fla. The sponsor was Representative Sam Gibbons, a Democrat from Tampa.

* About $2.5 billion in tax breaks for the oil and gas industry, mostly courtesy of the Senate Finance Committee. The committee chairman is Democrat Lloyd Bentsen, who,

like much of the nation's oil and gas industry, is from Texas.

* $5 million from the defense budget to build a new parliament building in the Solomon Islands, an independent nation.

* $8 million from the Department of Veterans Affairs in Portland, Ore., to build a pedestrian bridge.

* $1.5 million from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for Philadelphia's New Freedom Theater.

* $500,000 from the Department of Agriculture to restore the birthplace of bandleader Lawrence Welk in Strasburg, N.D.

Those 10 expenditures and revenue chops add up to about $3.2 billion, and critics say they represent only a small portion of the "pork barrel" items, instances of frivolous spending and special interest tax breaks, frequently funded by federal departments and agencies unrelated to the item, that have increased the bill this year for taxpayers.

Some say there are hundreds of such items; the thumbnail sketches and lists below detail further possible examples.

These lists, though lengthy, do not pretend to be complete or exhaustive.

Still, some analysts -- even some who cite many items as wasteful spending -- believe that this year's budget has less waste and fat than budgets of past years, though the main reason they cite is that this year's emphasis on closed-door dealings among a few didn't allow many lawmakers to write in their own pet projects.

These lists also come with the disclaimer that one lawmaker's "pork barrel" project is another one's necessary expenditure.

(The term "pork barrel," long a symbol of parochial congressional greed, comes from the previous century, when hungry farm hands reached greedily into a barrel for chunks of salt pork.)

A Marylander, for instance, might laugh at the $800,000 appropriated for a restroom facility on Mount McKinley in Alaska.

He might laugh even harder at the $25 million earmarked for a Department of Defense supercomputing center that would study the aurora borealis, the "Northern Lights," as a possible energy source. That's another project likely to end up in Alaska, especially if the sponsoring senator, Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, has his way.

And the Marylander's belly laugh might turn to apoplexy with the further news of the $4.1 million allocated by the U.S. Geological Survey for monitoring Alaska's Mount Redoubt volcano, whose eruptions disrupted air traffic throughout the state last year.

But an Alaskan might get a similar kick out of the $6 million set aside to build a visitors' center at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland, the $10 million for engineering work and site preparation for the proposed Christopher Columbus marine research center slated for Baltimore's Inner Harbor, the $14.8 million that will be spent to put more sand on Ocean City's beaches.

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