From an indoor rain forest in Iowa to a Florida program that encourages children to play golf, American taxpayers are footing the bill for some serious pork-barrel spending this year, according to a new report.
"The Pig Book," published annually by Citizens Against Government Waste, is a story of politics and pork, written in red ink, exposing some of the pet projects the group says will cost taxpayers $23 billion this fiscal year.
This year's edition is being released at a time when the nation's budget is $521 billion out of balance, the national debt is $7 trillion and rising, and Americans are getting ready to pay the piper with the annual tax deadline approaching.
The group releases the scathing new report on pork-barrel spending later today, but Good Morning America got a sneak preview of some of the projects included.
The Pig Book identifies 10,656 projects in this year's appropriations bills, worth a total of $22.9 billion.
"We don't have the money to do this, and whether we had it or we didn't have it, it's still a waste," said Thomas A. Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste.
Deficit-defying programs that Congress decided the nation just can't do without include $270,000 to Wisconsin for vital work on potato storage, another $270,000 to Montana, Texas and Wyoming for wool research and $238,000 for a South Carolina group promoting conservation and hunting of wild turkeys.
"The mentality is that pork-barrel spending will help members get re-elected, and taxpayers reinforce that because not enough of them say to their elected officials: 'Don't fund this through the federal government,' " Schatz said.
From Patriotism to Turkeys
Taxpayers will spend $1 million on a patriotism-for-kids project, part of which will go to a video that praises patriotic holidays. Another $2 million in federal tax funds will go to a Florida program encouraging kids to take up golf. Meanwhile, in Iowa farm country — known for corn and soybeans — something new will rise up: a rain forest. Federal funding will pay $50 million toward the cost of a 4.5-acre indoor rain forest that is part of the Iowa Environmental Project in Coralville. The federal portion is nearly a quarter of the full projected cost of $180 million.
"This is soaking the taxpayers to the tune of $50 million," Schatz said. "It is the poster child for pork this year."
According to the project's Web site, the indoor rain forest will help "a global understanding of how life works on Earth and how we can lead truly sustainable lifestyles in harmony with all of nature."
A Tropical Boondoggle?
Humorist Dave Barry recently wrote that the Iowa rain forest project proves Congress is "as trustworthy with money as a crack addict." Citizens Against Government Waste calls the project a tropical boondoggle that will soak taxpayers.
The project's chief administrator, David Oman, says the rain forest complex — which will also include an aquarium, a theater and outdoor trails — will create thousands of jobs.
"This will be the national environmental center for the United States," said Oman. "This project is a good investment. It will create a world-class environmental center, the only one like it in the U.S."
Before the rain forest can be built, toxic waste in the area will have to be cleaned up, and taxpaying businesses that stand in the way will be displaced to make way for the project. Some business owners are not happy.
"The people of Iowa don't like tax waste to start with, and to have it within our own boundaries is embarrassing to us," said Roger Duffery, a local business owner.
A Coralville resident also questioned the spending allocation.
"If they want to spend that money on a rain forest, they should actually spend it on a rain forest," said resident Dorothy Lewis.
The final irony in Iowa — the No. 1 pork-producing state in the nation — is that while American taxpayers are kicking in $50 million for the Iowa rain forest, Iowa taxpayers have not kicked in a dime.
"The state commitment is still being worked on," Oman said. He acknowledged that the Iowa taxpayer contribution is "zero, to date."
To learn more about the report, go to Citizens Against Government Waste: http://www.cagw.org/site/PageServer.
For details on the rainforest project, go to the Iowa Environmental/Education Project: http://www.iowachild.org/.