LOS ANGELES – Critics are calling it robbery in broad daylight, and the culprits are America's federal lawmakers.
The shortfall between the government's spending and its income swelled to a record $412 billion, or 3.6 percent of national output, in the 2004 fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. And yet, in the budget for that year, lawmakers were able to come up with $15 billion for more than 10,000 special projects, or what critics label "pork."
"We're at a time of record deficits, our nation is swimming in red ink and all these lawmakers want to bring home the bacon for their pet projects," said Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense (search).
Among the special projects taxpayers paid for this year are a $25,000 study of Mariachi music in Las Vegas and an $80,000 hangout in San Diego for gays, lesbian, bisexuals and transgenders. Another $100,000 went to a Punxsutawney Phil (search) museum in Pennsylvania and $175,000 was assigned for a therapeutic center for horses. Alaska fishermen were given $3 million to help them sell seafood.
Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said no one is losing out in the spending measure.
"This is a bipartisan bill. I don't think there is a senator in this chamber who cannot or has not claimed credit for at least one bill," Stevens said.
Stevens did his own share of spending this year. Among the breaks for Alaska were $500,000 set aside to help remodel a ski lodge and $75,000 to install a transit system in the town of North Pole.
"A state like Alaska gets about $600 per person in pork and they lead the nation. California gets just $10 per person in pork," said David Williams of the government watchdog Citizens Against Government Waste (search). A look at CAGW's study of pork-barrel spending shows that Alaska actually earns $808 per capita, leading the nation. In all, each person in America pays about $31 for pork projects.
According to the "Pig Book" published by CAGW, California ranks 43rd among states bringing home extra dollars, getting about $18 per person in pork spending. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who has been quick to criticize administration spending, got $2 million for a private Catholic college in her district, $1 million for a think tank set up by the treasurer of her political action committee, and $500,000 for a women's museum.
Other popular money pits are halls of fame. More than a half million dollars went to enshrine rock and rollers, distance runners, country musicians and milestones in paper manufacturing.
Many spenders defend the projects, saying one person's pork is another's bread and butter. Most of the projects don't get approved without significant private support and many are said to benefit the communities in which the money is spent. Supporters of the spending say just because the Bush administration didn't ask for the money doesn't mean the projects are any less deserving of backing.
Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' William La Jeunesse.