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.

“Taxpayers should be steamed that their money is being gambled on this project,” CAGW wrote in its report.

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.

North Carolina rocketed up the rankings in per capita pork spending by state this year. CAGW said more than $26 per capita was spent for the state, ranking it 33rd among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Last year only $15.65 was spent on pork per capita, placing the state 47th, and in 2004 North Carolina placed 50th in the CAGW rankings with $12.93 per capita.

CAGW noted 145 separate pork barrel projects earmarked for North Carolina, down from last year’s 217 projects. Among the appropriations it noted were: $55 million for Charlotte’s light rail system; $20 million for the Triangle Transit Authority’s rail system; $2 million for the Pisgah Astronomical Research Center’s equipment and exhibits; $3.5 million for a Blue Ridge Parkway visitor’s center; $1 million for the Madison County Forest Recreation Center; and $1 million for a runway expansion at Monroe Airport.

To be considered pork, an appropriation must meet one of the following criteria:

• Requested by only one chamber of Congress;
• Not specifically authorized;
• Not competitively awarded;
• Not requested by the president;
• Greatly exceeds the president’s budget request or the previous year’s funding;
• Not the subject of congressional hearings; or
• Serves only a local or special interest.

Also given special mention by CAGW was $6.4 million for “wood utilization research” in 11 states, including North Carolina, and $1 million added in conference by Republican Rep. Charles Taylor for a computer engineering program at Western Carolina University.

“Pork barrel spending illustrates and contributes to the meltdown of spending restraint in Washington,” said CAGW president Tom Schatz. “Instead of averting an impending fiscal crisis, members of Congress are grabbing the spoils to support their own re-election.”

Paul Chesser ([email protected]) is associate editor of Carolina Journal.