Taxpayer Rip-Off of the Week: $950,000 for Parking Lot in in Nebraska

This month, at Omaha, Nebraska’s Joslyn Art Museum, the artistically inclined can enjoy a host of stimulating activities from Appetite for Art with Director J. Brooks Joyner to guided tours of Joslyn’s Native American art, while aspiring artists as young as age three can participate in the museum’s many art classes, ranging in price from $30 for a Saturday session to $220 for a coveted seat at Joslyn’s Art School.

But all these activities come at an additional price, born by America’s hardworking taxpayers, many of whom will never enjoy the luxury of Joslyn’s guided tours or thematic lunches. Without so much as a whimper, the 2006 Transportation/Treasury/HUD Appropriations Act (H.R. 3058) dispensed $950,000 for a parking facility at the Joslyn Art Museum in Nebraska.

The museum defended the earmark because "expanded parking will benefit the public." "The parking has been an issue around here for decades," said Director Brooks Joyner, "and it’s only going to get more complicated going forward." The museum’s Chairman, Michael Yanney, chimed in, saying, "I think we’ve got to spend considerably more taxpayer money on cultural activities. Kids need culture. I don’t think the private sector can possibly afford to do all the cultural activities by themselves."

But even the state’s own Senator, Republican Chuck Hagel criticized the endless glut of pork barrel legislation coming out of Washington. "If we do not change the way we do the nation’s business," Senator Hagel said, "the public will remain skeptical and break the indispensable trust between the governed and those who govern."

The museum, which was built by the wife of prominent businessman George Joslyn, and takes in profits from private donations, memberships, and pricey art classes, hardly seems like an appropriate candidate for federal money. Rather, the earmark has all the markings of a smoke-filled backroom deal, designed to reward a political friend or ensure reelection. Either way, it is a violation of the public’s trust.

Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee voted in favor of spending tax dollars on the Joslyn Art Museum (Senate Roll Call Vote #264) on October 20, 2005.