Taxpayer Rip-Off of the Week: $4.5 Million for Katahdin Iron Works

Here’s an interesting question: Why would Congress allocate $4.5 million from the 2006 Interior Appropriations Bill (H.R. 2361) to a company that went out of business in 1890?

Answer: Because it can.

The Katahdin Iron Works in Maine was an iron factory that operated in Maine from 1843 to 1890. According to Mainerec, the Iron Works played an important role in the iron industry during the nineteenth century, but as iron became increasing replaced by steel, the Iron Works could no longer afford to remain in operation.

More than a hundred years after the Katahdin Iron Works closed its doors, Maine touts the Iron Works as a historical museum and park where visitors can tour (during summer months only) a restored blast furnace and charcoal kiln and enjoy the surrounding hiking trails. In support of the historic site, the federal government donated $4.5 million. Too bad, it wasn’t the federal government’s money to donate.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Maine. I spent four years there when I was an undergraduate at Bowdoin College and often go back to visit. I don’t have anything against the Iron Works, but it is not the federal government’s job to fund a project like this. If the Senators from Maine feel so strongly that the preservation of the Iron Works as a historical site is so important, than they should have the respect to introduce the particular appropriation on the floor for all of Congress to vote on.

It comes down to whether our political leaders put the taxpayers first or not. A lot of politicians, like my opponent, like to portray pork-barrel spending as a boon for local taxpayers, but this act of denial is undermined by the facts. Taxpayers do not benefit from an appropriations process that rewards special interests and withholds information from those whose money is actually being spent.

Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee voted in favor of spending tax dollars on Maine’s Katahdin Iron Works (Senate Roll Call Vote #210) on July 29, 2005.