A lean year for 'pork barrel' Money is scarce for 'pork barrel' projects in state.

March 22, 1991|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Evening Sun Staff

Townspeople from North East appeared hat in hand before state legislators in Annapolis, pleading for money from the state's "pork barrel" so the Cecil County town could replace its century-old police station.

The building is so cramped, said town officials, that in order for police to interview a victim and a suspect separately they have to sequester one of them in the restroom.

But the Cecil County officials, along with dozens of supplicants who joined what lawmakers call the annual "beg-athon" this week, may be in for a shock.

State lawmakers reaching into their annual "pork barrel" of money for capital building funds to give to the folks back home are discovering that the bacon is very lean this year.

Because of the recession, only about $15 million will be distributed around the state for local building projects, euphemistically called "worthy legislative initiatives" by lawmakers but better known as "pork." That is barely half last year's $29 million "pork."

Getting state funds for projects in their election districts is a key objective for legislators because voters often remember them most for their bricks-and-mortar accomplishments.

Because requests for the special funding amount to almost $130 million, capital budget committees in the House and Senate are scrutinizing the more than 100 bills seeking money for local projects this year.

"We're going to do our best to accommodate the subdivisions," said Del. Timothy F. Maloney, D-Prince George's, who heads the capital budget panel of the House Appropriations Committee. "But I'd say this is about the hardest time we've had in years."

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said this is the first year during the five years he has headed the Senate that no senator has asked him to personally intervene on behalf of a pork barrel project.

"We have to tighten our belts and belt-tightening begins at home," said Miller, D-Prince George's.

All week, lawmakers accompanied by constituents have appeared before the money committees to explain why their proposed building projects should receive priority funding.

The requests range from $50,000 for the Echo Hill Outdoor School in rural Kent County to $4 million for Bon Secours Hospital in Baltimore. Baltimore is the leading solicitor with more than two dozen requests, but every region in the state is represented on the wish list.

In general, lawmakers pick building projects that will bring needed services to an area and that will not be funded unless the state foots most of the bill, said Maloney.

If a project could be funded through local sources, it is not likely to receive state money. And that could be bad news for Cecil County officials, who are seeking $180,000 for their police station.

"We don't do swimming pools or fire houses or too many recreational projects because all these things are considered to have alternative funding," Maloney said.

"We don't do police stations either," he said apologetically.

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