WASHINGTON – To Baltimore City officials, federally funded drug treatment programs are essential to public health and have saved the lives of hundreds of city residents.
To the Citizens Against Government Waste, the $450,000 appropriation for the city’s drug program is just another example of government waste that cost taxpayers $22.5 billion in “pork-barrel” projects in fiscal 2003, the worst pork barrel year since the organization began tracking such spending in 1991.
The group’s annual “Pig Book” report, a chronicle of government spending released Wednesday, said that Congress “porked out at record levels” in fiscal 2003 on a total of 9,362 government projects.
The spending “is evidence of what happens when money stays inside the Beltway,” said CAGW President Tom Schatz. Instead of protecting the safety and interests of the entire nation, legislators “decide to spend it on themselves,” he said.
The report identified more than $153 million in spending on Maryland projects, including agricultural research and neighborhood capital improvements, that it identified as pork.
But Maryland’s rating improved this year, moving from the 22nd-worst spender in fiscal 2002 to 29th in fiscal 2003, according to the Pig Book.
CAGW spokesman David Williams said that the improved ranking does not mean the state’s congressional delegation has adopted more stringent spending policies. He said the “usual suspects” in Maryland, Sen. Barbara Mikulski and Rep. Steny Hoyer of Mechanicsville, both Democrats, are still grabbing money for the state, but not as fast as others.
“The other states have gone up, so by default, they’ve gone down” in Maryland in the ranks of big spenders, Williams said. “There’s been no real fiscal restraint in Maryland.”
The Pig Book uses seven criteria to determine what spending is justified and what is wasteful pork. The criteria include whether the project was included in the president’s original budget request or added later by lawmakers, whether it was the subject of a hearing, and whether serves a local or special interest.
But local officials defended the projects that the report called frivolous.
Prince George’s County does not consider the $450,000 it won for the rehabilitation of U.S. Route 1 a waste of government money, said Walter Dozier, a spokesman for County Executive Jack Johnson.
“Jack Johnson supports rehabbing any community that has lagged behind,” Dozier said. “This is investing in the future.”
Schatz disagreed, saying the only thing that’s being invested in is the political future of members of Congress.
He called the distribution of federal dollars to local projects “parochial” and wondered about the long-term effects of the practice.
“What about our children and grandchildren who will be saddled with this debt?” Schatz asked.
But a spokesman for Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley said it would be worse for future generations to be saddled with the social problems that would result if the money was not spent now.
“These programs do work. The citizenry is better off because the money is there,” said Rick Abbruzzese, the spokesman. “If you don’t deal with your drug problem, your city’s not going to grow.”