Is It Is, Or Is It Ain’t Pork?

I think this means something different from what it says...

As the budget negotiations continue to drag us into mid-June, a fundamental truth is coming into focus; pork is relative.

Consider this article from the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

$18m for a privately run prison the administration says it doesn’t need is still in the budget.

$16m for a fish hatchery that will bring jobs and economic development is on the ropes.

Which one is the pork barrel project?

Some have called “fish the new pork” in reference to the fish hatchery for Carter County. Others have called the project, “special projects of the members of the Legislature”.

Truth of the matter is that the fish hatchery in Carter County has been around since before Williams’ election. The Tennessee Wildlife Management Agency asked the Elizabethton City Council about buying land in an industrial park for a hatchery in 2002, long before Williams was elected.

While the hatchery may only employ 22 people, which is another objection to the appropriation, it will also bring in a lot more than that in the long term thanks to increased tourism.

Lt. Gov. Ramsey says he’s “absolutely for building the fish hatchery, but not in this budget year.”

Why not this year?

Could it be that this is an election year and Lt. Gov. Ramsey doesn’t want Kent Williams to get any credit for it, and possibly hurt the chances of the Republicans on the ballot? Who’s really playing politics with this issue, the Governor and Democrats and Republicans in the House, or the State Senate?

What about the closure of the prison that Kent Williams mentioned?

On one side, the administration argues that there is room in other prisons to move the current occupants of this facility, which is slated to close in 2011 anyway, saving the state $18m.

On the other side there’s a fairly valid argument that keeping the jobs the prison provide is more important in the long run.

But the prison was slated to close in 2011 regardless. In effect, those jobs are already gone. Pushing to keep the prison open until June 30 of next year is merely delaying the inevitable.

By appropriating the $18m for the prison in Freshman Senator Delores Gresham’s district, some would argue this appropriation in the Senate Republican budget is trying to save the future political fortunes of a new member who isn’t up for election until after the prison is slated to be closed for a year. Perhaps they think that the next Governor will decide to keep the prison open. I don’t know, but from my understanding, closing this unit has been in the works since last year’s budget.

Here’s another thing to think about. The $18m for the prison is in the regular state budget. If it passes, it will be spent no matter what. The $16m for the fish hatchery is contingent on federal stimulus dollars, which may or may not come through from the federal government.

I don’t know and won’t say that either the prison or the fish hatchery is pork, but in the end, we all need to realize that we’re arguing about less than 1% of the total state budget on both of these issues. Truth is, whether or not something is pork has more to do with how much that individual stands to benefit from it, rather than some truly rational metric.

Its time to stop being political and start being rational about the budget. The rational thing to do is for the Senate Republicans to stop playing games by pushing a budget that the majority of our 132 legislators serving in Nashville oppose. I know that’s not the way it works, but all this eye for an eye crap, while biblically titillating to the Republican majority in the Senate, isn’t getting the state anywhere.

Its time to move forward. It’s time for y’all to finish this budget and quit bugging Nashville with your nonsense.

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