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Published: Sunday, 6/17/2001

Whole hog for Perry County

Oink! Oink!

That's House Speaker Larry Householder, squealing about Governor Taft's veto of 49 items from the new state budget bill. Mr. Householder is complaining bitterly because Mr. Taft chose to delete nearly $1.5 million in spending the speaker sought to lift from other areas of the budget and redirect to projects solely for his rural legislative district, southeast of Columbus.

The budget “earmark” that stood out most infamously was $500,000 to fix horse barns at the fairgrounds in Perry County, population all of 34,708, Mr. Householder's home. If you're thinking “So what? Legislators do this all the time,” consider that the $500,000 the speaker wanted for the hometown folks was half - half! - of all the money available to all 94 county and independent fairs in Ohio.

Oink. Oink!

In vetoing the item, the governor pointed out the obvious: “This line item should continue to be allocated as it has been in the past - equally to all 94 fairs.”

More examples of pork-barrel projects, all for Perry County, ordered by Mr. Householder: $500,000 from the state parks and recreation budget for the local park in Somerset, and the recreation center in New Lexington; $250,000 for a sewer project in New Straitsville, and $225,000 for the Northern Perry drinking water project.

It's hardly unknown for a legislative leader to hide funding for pet projects in the voluminous budget bill. Hey, who'll notice in 1,600 pages and $45 billion? But Mr. Householder, in his first year as speaker, showed an unseemly and gluttonous appetite for pork, given that the legislature had just finished eviscerating the budgets of virtually every state agency to squeeze out more money for public schools.

And $1.5 million isn't just a tasty morsel for Perry County, it's the hams, the ribs, the chitlins - the whole hog.

Oink! Oink!

Fortunately, Governor Taft put a stop to the speaker's underhanded attempt at budget thievery, just as he did in exercising his line-item veto against Senate President Richard Finan's outrageous insertion into the budget of a legislative secrecy provision.

Mr. Taft had to wield his veto pen 49 times to pare down the General Assembly's fiscal excesses. Now, Mr. Householder and Mr. Finan are conspiring to put the whip to fellow majority Republicans to override all 49, but they can only do it with Democratic help.

Republicans need 60 votes to override in the 99-member house, but they have just 59. In the 33-member Senate, the GOP needs 20 votes and they already have 21. Since two Republicans favor the governor's veto of the secrecy provision, they must pick up three Democratic votes.

If they ever expect to regain majority status in the legislature, Democrats would be well-advised not to join the unholy alliance being organized by the speaker and the Senate president.

Not every local project backed by a legislator is a scam, of course, but such items should be considered individually in the biennial capital improvements bill. The surreptitious insertion of special-interest spending into the budget in conference committee should set off a pork alarm in every county not named Perry.


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