Conservative Political ‘Think Tank’ Scores Governments on Spending

A private Tennessee “think tank” today issued its fifth annual “Tennessee Pork Report,” listing millions of dollars in state and local spending that they say is wasteful.

The Tennessee Center for Policy Research says that together, state and local governments wasted more than 260 million dollars.

The report found problems with parks spending at all levels of government. That concern was echoed by David Williams, head of the national group Citizens Against Government Waste.

“The state and the localities have an obsession with dog parks. 510 thousand dollars on dog parks. Almost being treated better than individuals. The City of Knoxville — $162,000 on one dog park alone. This is a dog park, it isn’t even for people.”

The report also lists government-funded swimming pools, golf courses, and public art. It contends the state legislature wasted 350 thousand dollars by honoring individuals and groups. It also focuses on state initiatives that don’t line up with the group’s conservative leanings.

Justin Owen is the Tennessee Center for Policy Research’s acting executive director.

“The bulk of the state spending came from a very few programs. We looked at, obviously, the Pre-K program, as well as Tenn-Investco. So that alone counts for about…$163 million of it, there.”

TNInvestco is a tax-credit program for insurance companies that supporters consider a way of encouraging investment in small businesses. Most of the program’s details are kept out of the public record, which has lead to complaints.

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Justin Owen is bothered by parks and recreational spending in Kingsport.

“The City of Kingsport left taxpayers dry recently when it spent $15 million …on a swimming pool.”

Metro Nashville spent more than $400,000 on a public square statue honoring the “Citizen,” Owen complained.

The group collected information from state comptrollers’ reports about regulatory boards which charge fees to professionals in order to regulate those same professionals. Some of those boards were overcharging, the Center alleged.

“Professional regulatory boards, that regulate small businesses and entrepreneurs, from auctioneers to cosmetologists, overcharged and hoarded nearly $4 million. This caused the cost of doing business in Tennessee to go up, at a time when Tennesseans can least afford it.”

TCPR bills itself as “an independent, non-profit and nonpartisan research organization dedicated to providing concerned citizens, the media and public leaders with expert empirical research and timely free market policy solutions to public policy issues in Tennessee.”

It is funded by the “tax-deductible support of individuals, foundations and businesses sharing a concern for Tennessee’s future and an appreciation of the role of sound ideas and a more informed debate.”

Owen took credit for changing the proposed state budget. He says the organization did not step over the line into becoming a political entity when – as he said – it helped defeat a controversial fish hatchery plan which was proposed to be funded by contingency money in the upcoming state budget.

“You better believe that fish hatchery would be in here, had we not worked very hard, and successfully, to keep that out of the state budget, through a very active grassroots campaign, through TV, radio, and even Facebook. To let citizens know that the speaker of the House wanted to spend over $16 million on a fish pond in his district.”

Since the organization is not a political action committee, it does not have to disclose its finances. Therefore there is no public acknowledgment of who funds the Tennessee Center for Policy Research.

TCPR’s website features their own news release on the pork report.

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