The nonpartisan taxpayer-advocacy organization Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) named Congressman John Peterson (R-PA) and Pennsylvania’s most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, as the December Co-Porkers of the Month, for jointly defending a $100,000 federal grant for the Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center.
After CAGW singled out the project as one of the prime examples of pork in the 2005 omnibus spending bill, Punxsutawney Phil allowed himself to be stirred from his winter slumber and taken to Capitol Hill, where he appeared alongside Peterson and Barry Myers, CEO of the private weather-forecasting firm AccuWeather, in a joint press conference to defend the grant.
Peterson inserted the budget earmark as an Economic Development Initiative (EDI) grant in the Community Development section of the fiscal 2005 Veterans Affairs/Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Act. The project was not requested in the president’s budget, was not the subject of hearings, and appeared only in the House version of the omnibus bill, therefore qualifying as pork under CAGW’s long-standing criteria.
Peterson issued a statement that said, “The Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center is a unique museum that presents the history, science, technology, and folklore of weather in an interactive setting that is not only educational for young people, but fun for the whole family. This one-of-a-kind museum will help promote tourism in a beautiful, historic region of the country that has been struggling economically.”
As for Punxsutawney Phil, he is best known for emerging from his hole on February 2, Groundhog Day, to look for his shadow. If he sees it, there will be six more weeks of winter. If there is no shadow, spring will soon arrive. In addition to being a skilled weather prognosticator, Phil is also a great burrower of holes in the ground.
“CAGW is disappointed that Phil allowed himself to be used by supporters of the Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center to burrow holes in taxpayers’ wallets, said CAGW President Tom Schatz. “We hope this does not permanently tarnish the lovable image of meteorological ambassadorship that he has worked so hard to polish.”
Myers’ defense of the grant is more serious, of course, but also more troubling, said Schatz, because Myers claims the National Weather Service duplicates work done by the private sector. AccuWeather is the nation’s largest private weather-forecasting operation, part of a $1 billion industry. Schatz said that if Myers thinks so highly of the Punxsutawney Weather Center, he should put up more of his own money for the project, instead of reaching for tax dollars confiscated from other peoples’ paychecks.
The Punxsutawney Weather Center is like hundreds of museums throughout the country that manage to succeed without federal funding, Schatz said.
“Hundreds of poor communities throughout the United States will be taxed to turn Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, into the ‘Weather Capital of the World,’ simply because its congressman was able to curry favor with the right committee,” said Schatz.
For defending questionable priorities in a time of war, record deficits, and debt; circumventing the budget process; and grabbing $100,000 in federal funding for a pet project, CAGW named Congressman John Peterson and Punxsutawney Phil the December Co-Porkers of the Month.
Tom Finnigan ([email protected]) works in media relations for Citizens Against Government Waste.