Government Fat in TCPR’s Line of Fire

A free-market, limited-government advocacy group says that despite tough economic times, state and local politicians continue to flush taxpayer resources down the drain on wasteful and inappropriate projects and programs.

The Tennessee Center for Policy Research, a nonprofit organization that spotlights what it regards as boondoggles and budget-busting pork-barrel giveaways, on Tuesday released its annual report exposing excessive and avoidable state, county and municipal spending.

The 2010 Tennessee Pork Report (pdf) is 27 pages long, contains 10 chapters and catalogs numerous instances of government-sponsored profligacy across the Volunteer State totaling more than a quarter billion dollars.

Some of government’s “wrong-headed ideas” and unwarranted spending, according to the Pork Report, include:

  • $200 million for TNInvestco
  • $3.95 million in regulatory board fees
  • $1.6 million on 11 state-run golf courses in 2010
  • $1.5 million for smoking cessation programs
  • $370,000 on state Department of Revenue offices in Chicago, Atlanta, Houston, Newport Beach and New York
  • $350,000 in legislative time spent honoring people

“As Tennessee families struggle to make ends meet, our government keeps on spending, growing fatter by the day,” said Justin Owen, acting executive director for the think tank. “Instead of taking this prime opportunity to slash government fat, local and state politicians refuse to go on a diet. ”

Clint Brewer, who now serves as political editor for the Tennessean, was one of the Pork Report’s authors. The national group Citizens Against Government Waste cosponsored the report.

Formerly TCPR’s executive director, Brewer has written extensively about TNInvestco at the group’s TennesseeWatchdog.org site. And under a Pork Report section titled “Pigs Get Fat and Hogs Get Slaughtered,” the state government-funded venture capital investment program gets strung up for butchering:

“The two-headed monster of (Economic and Community Development Director Matt) Kisber and (Revenue Director Reagan) Farr picking winners and losers, the secrecy surrounding the program, and the few companies and connected venture capitalists it benefits arguably qualify TNInvestco as the most traditional pork on the plate in 2010 – government fat meant to benefit the few.

“Furthermore, the Bredesen administration has gone to great lengths to keep portions of the program secret, including a successful battle in district court that seals – among other things – what kind of deal insurance companies cut when they buy the tax credits. Fortunately, the process was made more transparent in 2010 thanks in part to TCPR’s efforts.  However, more is needed to protect taxpayers going forward.”

Despite having released the report for several years now, Owen said little lasting headway has seemingly been made in convincing lawmakers that fiscal restraint is a noble political virtue. But Owen said he’s confident that as more and more citizens are made aware that their tax dollars are often allocated unwisely, pressure will build on politicians to change their spendthrift ways.

The tight times in which Tennessee state government now finds itself will also encourage frugality in the coming budget cycles, he said.

“As this state becomes more dire in need of resources, (lawmakers) are going to do one of two things: They’re going to do the responsible thing and cut spending, as we’ve suggested they do year after year, or they’re going to raise taxes,” said Owen. “I can guarantee you which one is more politically popular with the people of this state.”

Andrea Zelinski shot video for this story.