Pork report has some squealing

Monday, October 11, 2010

With a multi-billion dollar bag of unpaid bills and a $13 billion operating budget deficit, one of Illinois’ largest fiscal watchdogs has released its latest pork report.
But there is a lot of opposition to what the group is calling wasteful spending.

The Illinois Policy Institute has released the 2010 Piglet Book which details what the group calls millions of dollars in wasteful spending.

The Institute’s Christina Rasmussen said funding for parks, parking lots, theaters and even Amtrak makes the pork list. Those projects are in Illinois’ $31 billion capital bill, which pays for everything from new roads, bridges and schools to long-neglected or newly planned local projects.

Rasmussen said it’s a matter of priorities, and thinks Illinois can ill afford some of the priorities in the massive building plan.

“We’re having trouble paying for core government services and we really need to prioritize. The needs come before the wants.”

Rasmussen said lawmakers need to look for private dollars before they rely on public dollars. David Williams with Citizens Against Government Waste said lawmakers need to be more responsible with tax money.

“We’ve seen that these [projects] are very distracting to getting the core business of government done. ... When you are consumed with making sure that the dance theater in your district gets $100,000, you’re not looking at the bigger picture of what’s important for the state,” he said.

But lawmakers and local leaders argue that the local spending in the capital bill is responsible, and often brings back much more than the original investment.

State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, takes issue with the Illinois Policy Institute’s report which classifies $175,000 for the village of Normal for the Connie Link Amphitheater as pork.

“It’s a quality of life issue that I look at. And every time I pass the park ... there are hundreds and thousands throughout the summer that enjoy the park, and they pay taxes last I checked,” Brady said.

Tim Dimke, executive director at the Rockford Park District, said his local improvement, which is in-line for state dollars, will make money. Dimke said the Sportscore I and Sportscore II facilities are slated to receive $275,000 but will return $21 million to Rockford.

“If [state government] were to put 100 percent into just core services we’re really depriving our own citizens of the quality of life ... that they need to enjoy their lives. The second thing is the amount [the IPI is talking about] they’re getting three times that back just in tax revenues on an annual basis,” he said.

Dimke added that with Rockford’s jobless troubles, more people may end up out of work. State Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon, said that’s why he’s happy to see the city of Galena receive money for a new city park. The Piglet book labeled the $67,000 to the city of Galena for Gateway Park land acquisition as a waste.

Bivins said it’s an investment in Galena’s life blood, tourism.

“Every area has different needs, you know Galena [is] different than Freeport. There are a lot of [capital bill] projects that included sewer and water, roads, buildings, and a variety of things that are important to those communities,” Bivins said.

Rasmussen and the Institute said the book is not a hit list against specific projects or lawmakers, but rather a tool to highlight the state’s fiscal situation.