What qualifies as an important project and what qualifies as pork barrel spending depends on your perspective.
In the past few days State Sens. Bill Seitz and Eric Kearney and State Rep. Tyrone Yates have all issued press releases touting the $14.2 million allocated for Hamilton County projects in a capital construction budget bill that was approved Wednesday. The bill, which totals $1.3 billion overall, is for fiscal year 2009-2010 and includes $773 million in cuts elsewhere in the budget sought by Gov. Ted Strickland to avoid a possible deficit.
Local projects both big and small are earmarked to get cash in the spending plan.
It includes $2.5 million for the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal, $2 million to help develop a large downtown riverfront park, $1.5 million each for the Cincinnati Art Museum and Cincinnati Zoo, $1.1 million to build a parking garage at Music Hall in Over-the-Rhine, $1 million to expand the Sharonville Convention Center and $850,000 for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
State Rep. Tom Brinkman Jr. (R-Mount Lookout) voted against the capital projects budget, while the rest of Greater Cincinnati’s legislative delegation supported it. Brinkman is a leader of the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) and a longtime critic of state spending.
Other projects targeted for money are:
** $500,000 each for parks in Colerain Township and Green Township;
** $300,000 for the New Town Indian Artifact Museum;
** $250,000 each for the Cincinnati Ballet and Clifton Cultural Arts Center;
** $220,000 for the Women’s Cultural Arts Center in Mariemont;
** $200,000 each for BalletTech, Mayerson Jewish Community Center and a park in Wyoming;
** $100,000 each for the Children’s Home of Cincinnati, Covedale Theater, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and a boat ramp in Addyson;
** $50,000 for a homeland security facility in Forest Park, apparently a hotbed of terrorist activity; and
** $15,000 for a Veterans Memorial in Mohawk.
The total amount allocated for Hamilton County increases to $59.6 million once funding for the University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati State and Technical Community College and the First Step Home is included.
“This capital bill is about investing in the resources we have and creating new growth through targeted investment,” Kearney said in his press release. “We have been able to secure funding for the arts, social services and economic development across Hamilton County. Sixty million dollars will do a lot of good for projects that need that little extra help to happen.”
Brinkman has been particularly critical of any money for the Freedom Center, because its backers pledged not to seek any public funding once the facility opened in 2004.
But more curious is the state cash allocated for the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Cincinnati Museum Center and the Cincinnati Zoo, all of which already receive money from a tax levy.
In his press release, Seitz noted that the spending would be funded primarily through the proceeds from the sale of state bonds.
Some institutions that will receive money are represented by lobbyist Dick Weiland, widely considered to be one of the most influential people on the local political scene. Several of the recipient organizations are also led by boards that include members who are frequent contributors to state legislators.
— Kevin Osborne