Thursday, March 12, 2009

You say "pork," I say "infusion of capital"

Wyoming’s two senators and one representative brought home the bacon this week.

The $410 billion Omnibus Spending Bill passed by Congress and signed by Pres. Obama includes $14.5 million in spending for Wyoming, all projects requested by the delegation. That includes millions for highway construction and improvements, $1.9 million for a pathways system in Grand Teton National Park, $3.42 million for a biology research lab at UW, almost $1 million for various health and drug prevention programs, $300,000 for renovation of a water treatment plant in Lincoln County and $285,000 for literacy and math programs on the Wind River Reservation. All reasonable requests that serve the public good. It’s almost as if Senators Enzi and Barrasso and Representative Lummis were community activists, even though they’re Republicans.

Included in the bill are a number of programs to boost Wyoming’s creative economy. They include $190,000 (requested by former Rep. Barbara Cubin) for the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody for digitizing and editing historic papers of William F. Cody. TV pundits have had a lot of fun criticizing this particular earmark (dare we call them earmarks?), going so far as to make fun of Buffalo Bill. One pundit, who shall remain nameless, referred to Bill as a horse thief and a philatelist, which are fighting words in Cody’s hometown of Cody. Why stamp-collecting is regarded with such low esteem in Park County is a long story and will have to wait for another time. Suffice to say, the barflies at the Irma Hotel Bar tonight are damn mad and are just about ready to shoot somebody, preferably a pointy-headed Democrat.

Here’s another cultural earmark: $114,000 to the Ark Memorial Foundation in Laramie for construction of Creative Arts Center. This was another project promoted by Cubin. The Creative Arts Program at Ark serves mentally challenged teens and young adults. The organization is a trailblazer in theatre and visual arts programs that feature the talents of people thought by some to have no talents. That’s why Ark won a Governor’s Arts Award three years ago.

The bill also included $95,000 to the Carbon County Museum Foundation for construction of multi-use museum, $171,000 to Citizens for Civic Auditorium for planning and construction of Casper Civic Auditorium and $380,000 to the City of Evanston for improvements to the Historic Evanston Roundhouse and Railyard. All these projects were a long time coming and will be a boost to their communities. Anyone who’s been to Evanston’s historic downtown knows what I’m talking about. Renovations to the Roundhouse and railyards and the museum have turned the town into a destination instead of just another pit stop along I-80.

All these projects are a boon to Wyoming, which is trying to reshape itself from the country’s "energy sacrifice zone" into a place with scores of vibrant arts and cultural amenities. These earmarks all mark progress.

You’d think the members of our Congressional delegation would be proud of their ability to help Wyoming plan for the future. But no, they’d rather play pitiful partisan games. All three voted to kill the $410 billion omnibus federal spending bill, calling it "fiscally irresponsible" and "pork-laden." Pork-barrel spending, too.

Pork-barrel my ass.

Bill Luckett, director for the Wyoming Democratic Party, told the Casper Star-Tribune:

The delegation's pointed criticism of earmarks while securing funding for their own pet projects is "blatant hypocrisy."

"It's an insult to the intelligence of Wyoming's people that they scream about earmarks out of one side of their mouth while they stick earmarks in the spending bill with the other side," Luckett said.

"It was Jesus Christ who said, 'Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,' " he added.

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