WASHINGTON — Some deride it as wasteful pork-barrel spending. Others praise it as bringing home the bacon for home-state folk.
However it is seen, Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, is a champion at winning money in Congress for his home state — and won a derisive award for it Wednesday from Citizens Against Government Waste.
The national watchdog group gave him its "Going for the Taxpayers' Gold Award" for obtaining "$99 million for the 2002 Winter Olympics" from the federal government."
That came as the group released its "2001 Congressional Pig Book," an annual listing of what it says are the worst examples of pork-barrel projects funded by Congress. It included several "oinker awards," including the one Bennett won.
Thomas A. Schatz, president of the group, told a press conference, "In the past two years, the American people have delivered budget surpluses to Washington. The 2001 Pig Book is evidence of what happens if the money stays inside the Beltway.
"One solution to this problem is to get some of the money out of town (through tax cuts). Americans do not send their hard-earned tax dollars to Washington so that Sen. Robert Bennett can go for the taxpayers' gold with $99 million for the 2002 Olympics," Schatz said.
Bennett's press secretary, Mary Jane Collipriest, responded, "I think few people in Utah would say that funding for light rail is a waste of money, or that we shouldn't help pay for a clean, safe watershed and an adequately equipped law enforcement system, including the one that will protect athletes, international visitors and local citizens at the Olympics in 2002.
"These are the types of Utah projects for which Sen. Bennett has proudly secured funding. We'll have to respectfully disagree with Mr. Schatz's assessment and analysis of their value," Collipriest said.
Bennett is the only Utah member of Congress on an appropriations committee, which annually divides the federal spending pie. It often falls to him to fight for Utah funding.
Among Utah projects specifically attacked in the "Pig Book" as wasteful pork were:
$9.5 million added last year by Bennett to transportation appropriations bills for Olympics-related projects, including $2 million for light rail construction, $1.55 million for airport terminal communication improvements and $1.5 million for other Utah aviation projects.
$300,000 that Bennett added to a labor and education appropriations bill for the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for a national arts and education model for the 2002 games.
$13.74 million Bennett added to a commerce appropriations bill for Olympics projects that included $5 million to enhance law enforcement communications, $3 million for a public safety master plan and $590,000 for the University of Utah to make local forecasts. (The "Pig Book" derided that, saying, "It's probably going to snow.")
$16.8 million Bennett added to a housing appropriations bill for Olympics-related spending, including $2.5 million for SLOC to design environmental programs and $2 million for temporary Olympic housing.
Citizens Against Government Waste also released state-by-state rankings of pork-barrel spending per person in 2001 appropriations bills.
Utah ranked 12th highest in the nation. The group said it received $64 per person in identifiable pork-barrel spending in 2001 appropriations, much higher than the $25.52 national average.
It said Utah received $142.93 million in such pork overall for its 2.23 million residents.
The state with the most pork per person was Alaska, home of Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, with $766.11 per capita. The lowest state was Connecticut at $7.69 per person.