Pork Reports Uncovers $468 Million In Government Waste
NASHVILLE, Tenn.- A new Pork Report has been released and estimated that over $468 million dollars is being wasted by government leaders in Tennessee.
The report was released Tuesday by the Beacon Center. The watchdog group said they discovered over $468 million in so-called government waste in Tennessee. In the report the group took aim at several questionable spending projects in the state. Two big findings in the report – were courtesy of News Channel 5's Phil Williams.
New this year, the group created the "Pork Of The Year" award. The 2012 winner was announced as Wendy Askins, the leader of the Upper Cumberland Development District and the focus of a News Channel 5 Investigation.
"She purchased a high definition TV, a $25,000 custom staircase, a steam shower and sauna at $3,000 a pop, a crystal chandelier, two massive fountains totaling $9,000. Fortunately she no longer has her job and she's under criminal investigation," said Justin Owens with the Beacon Center.
News Channel 5 Chief Investigative Reporter Phil Williams first broke the story about Askins, and about how she was living lavishly on taxpayer money in Cookeville. She launched a project called ‘Living the Dream' and was the executive director of the Upper Cumberland Development District.
The Pork Report also focuses on now former Davidson County clerk John Arriola, also the focus of a News Channel 5 Investigation. The report shares what Phil uncovered how Arriola was pocketing a $40 fee to perform weddings.
Another target of the Pork Report was celebrity Dolly Parton. There was a lot of fanfare when Parton revealed she was bringing a new theme park to Middle Tennessee, but the government watchdog group, wasn't so thrilled with the deal.
After Parton announced her plans to bring a new theme park to Nashville, the Beacon center discovered that both Parton and Opryland would be getting $5.8 million in tax breaks to bring the park to town. The Beacon Center called that act corporate welfare.
"This just shows you that corporate welfare is alive and well in Tennessee with millions being taken from hard working tax payers and being handed over to favored companies," said Owens.
Mayor Dean and other city leaders have defended this deal in the past saying the tax breaks are worth it, because of all the new jobs it will bring to the area.
Along the same lines, the center takes issue with how GM got a $ 1.5 million state grant after a mega bailout of $50 billion from the federal government.
"There are people down here that are basically saying you ought to give us taxpayer money because we are special, well you are not special, you shouldn't get tax money, you ought to go out in the free market and if you offer a good or a service, that people want to buy, that's how you get your money," explained Ben Cunningham with the Beacon Center.
Another finding stems from a legislative debate a few months ago. Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey pushed to give half a million dollars for a country music museum on the Tennessee-Virginia state line. Tennessee Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey said he believes the museum to be a great investment, a "collaborative effort between the two states to do something for both states, Tennessee and Virginia."
"The worst part of Ramsey's handout which went to a country music museum, in Bristol, was not only was it outside of his district, it was outside of the state of Tennessee which just goes to show you, that government waste doesn't even stop at the state line," said Owens.