WASHINGTON -- Calling themselves "The Porkbusters," a group of congressmen have introduced legislation to eliminate 642 federally funded projects, including three in Maryland, that they say qualify as Grade A pork.
Baltimore's $161 million Christopher Columbus Center of Marine Research and Exploration was among the so-called pork-barrel projects targeted. In fiscal 1992, $26 million in federal funds was appropriated for the Inner Harbor project.
To be included in the legislation introduced yesterday, projects were judged on whether their sponsors circumvented the legislative process to get them approved and not on whether they deserved funding.
"Until the white light of publicity falls on these projects, we won't know" if they have merit or not, said Rep. Harris W. Fawell, an Illinois Republican and one of the bill's sponsors.
Construction is slated to begin in October on the Christopher Columbus center, a pet project of Maryland's Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski. The project was faulted by the bill's sponsors for not being authorized by a committee and for not being subjected to a Congressional hearing.
Senator Mikulski, a Democrat, is one of 29 members of the Senate Appropriations Committee. She also is the chairwoman ofthe subcommittee with jurisdiction over the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, which are jointly funding the Christopher Columbus center.
Rachel Kunzler, a Mikulski spokeswoman, said the senator agrees that waste needs to be cut from government spending. "However, the Christopher Columbus Center is a solid public investment that will spur private sector growth. For Maryland, it means construction jobs today and hi-tech, high-paying jobs tomorrow," Ms. Kunzler said.
The two other Maryland projects criticized as pork-barrel projects are a $1 million appropriation for purchase of apartments in New Carrollton for low-income housing and a $300,000 grant to the Maryland Hospital Association.
Both projects made it into law through the efforts of Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-5th, a member of the House Appropriations Committee.
Johnnie Hemphill, an Appropriations Committee staffer, said Congress had been "the court of last appeal" for the New Carrollton housing project. A federal grant was the only way Prince George's County could find to keep rents at the complex within the reach of moderate- and low-income renters, he said.
The definition of pork barrel "depends on whose pork it is," Mr. Hemphill said.
"Typically members of the minority talk about pork. What they won't talk about is that these projects are only a small percentage of authorized funding."
The Maryland Hospital Association grant would fund a demonstration project for Defense Department personnel who are losing their jobs due to downsizing, according to John Berry, an aide to Mr. Hoyer. The goal of the project is to retrain former defense employees for jobs in the health care industry, which lacksqualified personnel, he said.
"DOD may have gone through with [the project] anyway, in which case it wouldn't have been called pork," said Mr. Berry. "The second a congressman touches it, it's called pork."
Other projects targeted for elimination include $300,000 for reburial of Native Hawaiians; $2,250,000 for Wheeling Jesuit College in West Virginia, and $250,000 for the National Constitution Center in Pennsylvania.
Elimination of all the targeted projects would save $1.5 billion, about one-1,000th of the federal budget.
Of the 22 representatives sponsoring the bill, three are Democrats and 19 are Republicans. Two republican senators have signed onto a companion measure. No Maryland lawmakers have lent their support to the legislation.
A bill similar to the one introduced yesterday was introduced last year but failed to be enacted. Sponsors of the new legislation said it has a better chance of passing this year because it is backed by the White House.