Taxpayer Rip-Off of the Week: $1 Million for Swimming Pool in California

With meteorologists in the Northeast predicting a heat wave over the next week, many Rhode Islanders will make for the beaches and local pools to cool off. In California, it will be no different, except that the lucky citizens of Banning, Calif., can enjoy their community pool knowing that America’s 49 other states are footing the bill.

Just last month, Rep. Jerry Lewis (R.-Calif.) added a $500,000 earmark to the 2007 Transportation Bill to pay for pool renovations in Banning, California. This is in addition to the $250,000 the community received in 2006 and the $250,000 it received in 2005, a package now totaling $1 million. Unfortunately, when Rep. Jeff Flake (R.-Ariz.) introduced an amendment to strip Lewis’s earmark from the 2007 bill, only 60 House members rallied to support him (Vote #277, June 14, 2006). Apparently, the 365 congressmen who voted against the amendment think that Banning’s swimming pool constitutes a pressing national need.

Of course, it is no coincidence that Representative Jerry Lewis, dubbed “earmarker in chief” by the Wall Street Journal (June 15, 2006), is the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and is currently under investigation for doling out special projects to political friends. In his defense, Rep. Lewis claims that “all earmarks and contracts went for projects with the ‘highest standards of public benefit,’” but Lewis has yet to explain how $1 million taxpayer dollars for a swimming pool in Banning, Calif., qualifies under this standard.

Lewis is the prime example of what is wrong with the Washington political culture. I wish I could say that Lewis is the exception and not the rule, but the truth is that his conduct is par for the Washington course. Luckily, there is a solution to this problem, and that is to elect representatives who have the courage to stand up to the special interests and fight for the taxpayers. Ultimately, the voting public bears the responsibility for the quality of our representatives, or lack thereof. In other words, we get what we vote for, and now is the time to vote for something better.

Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R.) voted in favor of spending tax dollars on Banning, California’s swimming pool (Senate Roll Call Vote #264) on Oct. 20, 2005 (Senate Roll Call Vote #215) and on Nov. 20, 2004.