The Forest and the Teas

The boys over that the John Locke Foundation are in a swivet this morning about the fact that two North Carolina wingnuts fought hard to pull in some pork barrel money for the Sparta Teapot Museum. It's a recycled story from last year, but it does warrant thinking through.

The Sparta Teapot Museum, a target of criticism over unnecessary pork barrel spending after receiving a $400,000 appropriation in last year's state budget, has been recognized by a national government watchdog group after receiving another half-million dollars in federal funds. Washington-based Citizens Against Government Waste officially released its annual "Congressional Pig Book" yesterday, and singled out the Sparta museum as one of its 14 "Oinkers of 2006," giving it the "Tempest in a Teapot" award. The project received a grant through the Housing and Urban Development budget.

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The appropriation was part of more than $226 million in pork barrel spending just for North Carolina, as recognized by CAGW. Nationwide, the organization said Congress spent $29 billion on unnecessary projects and programs. That represented a 6.2 percent increase in spending over last year's $27.3 billion, although the number of projects funded decreased from 13,997 last year to 9,963 this year.

Sen. Richard Burr helped get the $500,000 appropriation for the teapot museum.

"It's going to bring economic development and tourism dollars to a community with a high number of job losses," said his spokeswoman, Laura Caudell.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-10th, also pushed for the funding. "I have fought to cut spending, to pay off the deficit, and to offset any new spending with spending cuts," Foxx said in a statement. "However, once the budget is set and the Congress has decided it is going to spend our hard-earned tax dollars on economic development projects, then I am going to fight for economic development projects in Western North Carolina."

Patrick Woodie, executive director for the Sparta Teapot Museum, said the CAGW distinction has drawn renewed media attention to the Allegheny County project. "We welcome the scrutiny," he said. "We think this is a great project. It gives us an opportunity to tell the rest of the story."

Woodie said he expects to break ground on the museum this summer, with an opening in late winter or early spring of 2008. "This is exactly the kind of public/private partnership that government should be supporting, because it makes economic sense," he said.

In a world where Republicans seem happy to burn a BILLION dollars a week fighting the war on terra, it's hard to get too excited about this kind of money for a sweet little teapot museum. So until the wingers get serious about Halliburton-style corruption in the White House and Congress, they have no legitimate ground to stand on when they complain about pork.