District 10 Legislator

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Kevin Hardwick - District 10

Financial hardships may result from return of pork-style spending

One of the things taxpayers complained about most when the red and green budgetary crisis brought Erie County to its knees was the presence of pork in the budget. Much of the pork was subsequently pared and the fiscal health of the county improved. Now, however, pork barrel politics may be returning to county government. We must not let this happen.

One of the misconceptions regarding pork is that it goes for projects that lack merit. This is not necessarily the case, as many of the products of pork barrel spending are popular in many quarters. The problem is that they would not be funded if voted on individually. Instead, they are bundled together in a bill containing something for everyone. This makes them irresistible to legislators looking to claim credit for "bringing home the bacon."

It is similar to the situation faced by a couple where one spouse wants a new computer and the other wants the newest cell phone. Each knows the other would not approve of their purchase because their budget is already stretched to the limit. So they take a trip together to the big-box electronics store and use their credit card to buy the computer and cell phone simultaneously. Both get what they want and both are very happy until the bill arrives.

This sort of thing happens in government way too often. One legislator cannot justify voting for a marginal program benefiting another legislator's district. But if that same program is bundled with a program in his or her own district, it suddenly becomes much more appealing. Everybody gets something, and all are happy. The end result, however, is that taxpayers must pay for this spending spree.

A few weeks ago, the County Legislature took up a pair of pork barrel resolutions. One would have spent money that, although originally budgeted, was lost to state aid cuts. The other would have raided the county's fund balance to the tune of more than $30 million. Both contained projects for my district, as well as those of many other legislators. This made them very appealing. I chose to vote against both, though, as supporting them would have inevitably resulted in higher taxes.

It is not that the projects themselves were bad. Many, including the ones slated for my district, had considerable merit. Instead, my objection was based on my belief that the process of bundling good projects with marginal ones for a "take it or leave it" vote results in the sort of overspending that is all too common in Washington and Albany and used to be the norm in Erie County. We must not let the politics of the pork barrel return to County Hall.

To reach Hardwick's office, call 873-3438 or e-mail Kevin.hardwick@erie.gov.

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