Nobody likes pork in the federal budget–especially when they aren't getting any. This year, nearly every state is getting a healthy portion from the Senate's version of the almost $5 billion federal Community Development Block Grants. Almost every state, that is, except New York.
The purpose of the CDBG is to fund economic development, primarily in poor and middle-income areas. But Senators looking to fund pet projects play fast and loose with this definition, attaching all kinds of random programs as “set-asides” on the CDBG portion of the Department of Housing and Urban Development budget bill.
Powerful senators, or ones with friends on the appropriations committee, tend to get the biggest pots of cash. But there's plenty to go around.
This year, for example, Alaska is getting nearly $9 million in CDBG set-asides, in part because the state's university wants a pilot training simulator, and in part because Alaska's Ted Stevens chairs the committee. Mississippi is making off with $5 million, half a million of which is earmarked to restore William Faulkner's house in Oxford. Memphis gets $1.5 million to build the Stax Museum of American Soul Music.
But New York's take is a paltry $500,000, split between a fund to restore the Frank Lloyd Wright house in Buffalo and something called a Virtual Campus Center at Monroe Community College in Rochester. Only a few states got less.
So, the selfish voter asks, where were Senators Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Chuck Schumer when the fat was being divvied up? Al D'Amato never would have let this happen–during his tenure, New York always made out respectably, with cash from the Senate for pet projects like a business center at Hofstra University and funding for social programs for Brooklyn's Holocaust survivors. (Moynihan's press rep said that the senator hopes to get more funding tacked on during Senate/House budget conference; Schumer's office did not respond.)
Pork-barrel politics don't always have to be irresponsible, points out Ed Gramlich of the Center for Community Change, a Washington, D.C. policy group. Pennsylvania, for example, is devoting nearly all its $6 million to projects that will fix brownfields, redevelop industrial areas, and build a shelter for the homeless: “If we're going to have set-asides, let's not make it pork barrel, but good projects for low-income neighborhoods.”