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A GRILLING FOR PORK SPENDING TAX WATCHDOGS BLAST CONGRESS.

Byline: Lisa Friedman Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - A leading government watchdog group accused Congress on Wednesday of wasting $3.4 billion in taxpayer money on hometown pork projects like a glass museum and the world's largest teapot collection.

In all, Citizens Against Government Waste identified 375 projects funded in 2005 that went through little or no vetting process.

In addition to the teapot museum in Sparta, N.C., which got $500,000, and $550,000 for the glass museum in Tacoma, Wash., lawmakers also signed off on $100,000 to help a boxing club near Las Vegas and $1 million to promote water-free urinals.

The annual "Pig Book" also took aim at Southern California projects, including $1 million for the Griffith Observatory planetarium in Los Angeles; $3 million for a grade separation in Hesperia; and $100,000 for a new pool at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, where the median annual income exceeds $76,000.

"Those are my citizens' tax dollars that are being inappropriately allocated to states that do not deserve them through any reasonable process," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a longtime opponent of special funding requests.

The requests, or "earmarks" - otherwise known as pork because they bring bacon home to districts - have been under fire ever since convicted San Diego congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham got caught inserting special funding for defense contractors in exchange for cash and goodies.

But more than anything, McCain said, it was the $231 million included in a transportation bill for Alaska's "Bridge to Nowhere" that turned the public tide in favor of reforming the way Congress spends money.

"This is a tipping point," he said.

But local lawmakers said they resent comparisons between their projects and the nationally mocked bridge.

Rep. Adam Schiff, for example, said the Griffith Observatory's planetarium helps make science attractive to kids, and federal funding for it is legitimate, particularly at a time when the U.S. is not producing enough scientists.

"For me, I put this in a different category than a bridge to nowhere," said Schiff, D-Pasadena.

Lancaster City Manager Bob LaSala said the $250,000 in federal funding his city received is needed to revitalize a poor area plagued by high crime and substandard housing. Far from what he called the "greasy, slimy and slippery" connotations that earmarks conjure, he said the money will be used to create recreation programs and opportunities in a disadvantaged neighborhood.

"The process of earmarking revenues is one as old as the political process itself, and a community like Lancaster submits requests and relies on their elected officials in Washington to make a determination on the appropriateness of the request," LaSala said.

McCain and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., both of whom joined the authors of the 2006 "Pig Book" and passed around plastic pig noses, said the projects' merits are not in question.

"We're not saying all these projects are bad. We're saying they haven't gone through the process,"' McCain said.

He and Coburn both called for congressional rules mandating that lawmakers be allowed at least 48 hours to read the bills they are asked to pass and also be allowed to challenge individual amendments.

Currently, the only way to strike a specific earmark is to vote against an entire bill, which lawmakers are often reluctant to do.

Calling earmarks "the gateway drug to overspending," Coburn lambasted both parties.

Staff Writer Beth Barrett contributed to this report.

lisa.friedman(at)dailynews.com

(202) 662-8731

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SOURCE: Citizens Against Government Waste

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 6, 2006
Words:587
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