At a celebratory dinner for newly elected Columbia Coun-ty Commission Chairman Ron Cross this past weekend, the handful of Democrats scattered at a couple of tables were easy targets for some good-natured ribbing.
One responded to the comments by joking that because the Republicans got to the buffet first, all the pork was gone.
A few minutes later, Republican state Rep. Ben Harbin returned the jibe: We couldnt help taking all the pork - wed never seen any before!
Anyone who wants to see what pork looks like - not literal pork on steam trays, but figurative pork of politically friendly spending - should travel down to Perry, Ga., in time for the Georgia National Fair next October. The pork there looks an awful lot like a mule.
In the 2002 supplemental appropriations bill - a perpetual refuge for scoundrels using your money to buy their way to re-election - there is this gem: To provide for planning and construction of a tenant farmer and mule statue at the Georgia Agricultural Exposition Authority.
The price for this bronze artwork? A mere $122,000.
This is the essence of pork: This abuse of your tax dollars wasnt debated in the House or Senate. Instead, it was shoved into the supplemental appropriations bill by powerful state Rep. Larry Walker of Perry during the budget conference. The conference is where the states real budget is made behind closed doors; it is the negotiating process in which House and Senate spending is reconciled with the amount of tax money available.
In the states regular budget, there almost always is more money available to spend. Georgia budgets with artificially conservative revenue projections that dont match up with the states tax rates. That creates a surplus that can then be doled out in heaping helpings of pork during the supplemental budget process. In essence, the supplemental budget is engineered to spend all the leftover money that wasnt used in the regular budget.
Couldnt it just be given back to taxpayers? Not when there are statues to be built. Bigshot politicians use the supplemental budget like a supplemental campaign kitty, doing favors in their districts in return for glad-handing photo ops that endear them to voters. Walker has even managed to get Jimmy Carter to agree to come to Perry next October to unveil the mule statue - which earned the title of most outrageous spending item in a Libertarian Party ranking.
Such outrages wont likely disappear, but the process that produces them is coming home to roost just as Republicans prepare for a long-overdue turn in the Governors Mansion. Gov. Roy Barnes, just days after his stunning defeat, announced that tax revenue to the state is coming in much slower than expected. As a result, education in Georgia now is targeted for a 2 percent cut, joining other state departments already feeling the budget pinch.
It is no coincidence that Barnes waited until after the election to announce the cuts in education. He was already worried about losing the teacher vote because of his heavy-handed reforms; promising to trim their budgets would have only made matters worse. Instead, he can now make it Sonny Perdues problem.
Gov.-elect Perdue will certainly hear more about such problems Wednesday morning when he meets with Barnes at the Capitol. Oh, to be a fly on the wall.
Presumably, the two wont plan to build any more mule statues. But Perdue had better be careful: With Republicans taking over the Senate, seeing what pork looks like for the first time, theyd better not try to build any elephant statues, either.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email comments to bpaschal@ newstimesonline.com, or call 863-6165, extension 106.)
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