Coburn Identifies $345 Million In Corporate Subsidies

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Peter Fricke Contributor
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Of the 100 programs and $25 billion in wasteful government spending identified by Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn in the latest installment of his annual “Wastebook”, 18 programs costing taxpayers more than $345 million involved direct or indirect subsidies to private businesses. (RELATED: Animals Forced To Run On Treadmills And Other Important Federal Budget Items)

That total does not include programs benefitting either individuals, such as a tax provision allowing “the rich and famous to rent out their property for short periods of time without reporting the revenue on their tax returns,” or government-owned businesses, like renovations for municipal airports and golf courses.

The most expensive instance of corporate welfare identified in the Wastebook, interestingly, involves state and municipal spending, but costs the federal government $146 million annually.

Public financing of stadium construction is frequently funded through tax-exempt municipal bonds, “resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in lost federal revenue.” According to a Bloomberg investigation cited in the report, “such municipal debt helped build structures used by 64 major-league teams, including baseball, hockey, and basketball,” as well as 21 NFL teams.

Some programs involve less substantial expenditures, but are nonetheless notable for their sheer absurdity. (RELATED: Why is there So Much Government Waste?)

The FAA, for example, awarded $18 million in grants to fund a construction project at Friedman Memorial Airport, which serves a “ski resort that is a magnet for the rich and famous.” Among the more-superfluous elements of the project is “a waiting lounge for arriving passengers that will have comfortable chairs and a fireplace.”

Another grant, this one for $500,000, was awarded to a Native American tribe in Oklahoma by the USDA “to subsidize the farming of…butterflies.” Never mind that “every member of the tribe could be provided their own start kit for a total cost of $127,000″—only 50 of the tribe’s 845 members have signed up so far.

Other programs had more conventional, albeit no more defensible, justifications, like protectionism. (RELATED: Report: Government Really Does Waste Most Taxpayer Dollars)

A newly reconstructed bridge in Colorado, despite being “in fine condition,” may be torn down and rebuilt because it violates Buy American requirement for federally funded projects. The problem, it seems, is that the steel used to rebuild the bridge “was cast in the U.S., but rolled into beams across the border in Canada.”

Then there is the more than $600,000 that “the United States is forced by law to pay for the mining and shipping of anthracite coal to U.S. military bases in Germany,” despite the fact that “the military had no use for the coal and… argued that it was more cost-effective to purchase energy from local suppliers overseas.”

Those inclined toward optimism could find a few positive takeaways, though. For instance, the government seems to have taken the lessons of Prohibition to heart, helping a New York brewery fund the opening of a second location, and providing a grant for a New Mexico winery to market chili-based wines.

In a press release, Coburn sounded a hopeful note, saying that, “even if the politicians won’t stop stupid spending, taxpayers always have the last word.”

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