NASHVILLE—Tennessee officials wasted $609 million in taxpayer money last year, according to the 2014 “Pork Report,” which a free-market think tank released Wednesday.
Beacon Center of Tennessee President Justin Owen said this year’s report reveals the highest amount of taxpayer waste in the publication’s nine-year history, which places blame on a large variety of state and local government entities.
So how do government officials traditionally behave when they make this infamous list? Do they show embarrassment or remorse or do they get mad and defensive?
“It’s a mix,” Owen said at a press conference Wednesday.
“I would say some realize they’re making mistakes and have started to clean up their act, but others think it’s OK to do what they’re doing, particularly on the waste side when you’re talking about spending money on stupid projects or things that aren’t wise for taxpayers.”
The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development is the recipient of this year’s “Pork of the Year,” after Owen said it handed out $200 million in wrongfully paid unemployment benefits. Felons, dead people and gainfully employed state workers were among the recipients, Owen said.
Among the wasteful projects included in this year’s report:
- Tourism taxes paying $30 million to convert the Memphis Pyramid structure into a new Bass Pro Shops retail store/resort.
- A $60 million contract state officials signed with an out-of-state marketing firm in Missouri to promote tourism in Tennessee.
- About $42 million in Tennessee Department of Transportation money for a swanky airport in Cleveland, specifically designated for the corporate jet owners.
- About $302,000 to pay a Robin Williams movie, “Boulevard,” to shoot on location in Nashville, supposedly to market the city—even though the movie never once references where it takes place.
- $750,000 paid by the Metro Nashville Arts Commission for colored stick art in front of the new Music City Convention Center.
The colored sticks project consists of 30 arrow-like poles jutting out of the ground at different angles.
“If you do the math you’ll realize that comes at a cost of $25,000 per pole,” said Beacon Policy Director Lindsay Boyd.
The report also details how local governments and public utilities in Tennessee wasted $7.5 million more than they had last year and frequently bypassed competitive bidding requirements.
In the report, Beacon staff members recommend their own solutions to taxpayer waste, including establishing independent commissions that would analyze the state budget line by line.
“At the local level, officials can create audit committees to analyze their budgets, maintain sufficient rainy day funds, impose debt disclosure requirements for taxpayers and overhaul financial management systems altogether,” Owen said.