State Pork Report Names Wharton's Cadillac, Civil Rights Museum Grant

State Pork Report Names Wharton's Cadillac, Civil Rights Museum Grant

The Beacon Center, a watchdog group, released its report on wasteful government spending in the State of Tennessee. Two big items are from right here in Memphis: Mayor A C Wharton's expensive car lease and money given to the National Civil Rights Museum.
MEMPHIS, TN (localmemphis.com) - The Beacon Center, a watchdog group, released its report on wasteful government spending in the State of Tennessee. Two big items are from right here in Memphis: Mayor A C Wharton's expensive car lease and money given to the National Civil Rights Museum.

The group says the report is proof governments across Tennessee go hog wild with taxpayers' hard-earned money.

According to this year's pork report, state and local governments in Tennessee squandered over $500 million. Millions in film incentives, an expensive beef promotion campaign, and an outrageous spending spree by an east Tennessee city official are just a few of the items mentioned. Memphis made the list too.

Every day, people flock to the National Civil Rights Museum. The museum received $2 million in federal tax money. The money was intended to help communities suffering economically from natural disasters, and it's considered pork by the authors of this year's pork report. Remember the 2011 floods? Floodwater never made it to the museum's front door, but it got disaster money anyway.

No one from the museum would comment on camera.

Then there's Memphis Mayor Wharton's expense Cadillac, valued at $60,000. Wharton's riding in style on a $1,200 a month lease.

The report calls it pork, and cites Local 24's investigation into other similar sized southern cities where mayors are driving more modest rides.

Memphis Chief Administrative Officer George Little doesn't think the mayor's fancy ride should be considered pork.

"It's unfortunate that it's characterized as such," he said. "It's not like it's something this administration just went out and did, nor was this last lease significantly out of line with the previous lease agreement."

Then there is Memphis developer Michael Lightman. You've probably been inside the movie theaters his family runs, Malco Theaters.

According to the pork report, Lightman is just one of some of Tennessee's wealthiest residents who took advantage of what's called the Greenbelt Law, which is a legal tax loophole that's supposed to protect farmers. According to the report, Lightman was able to get his property tax for one piece of land in Collierville reduced 99 percent from nearly $53,000 a year to $347.

We asked Lightman to comment but he didn't return our calls.

Leave Memphis, and there are plenty of other examples of government going hog wild, including $73 million in erroneously paid unemployment benefits.

Also, $800,000 was spent to update a study to determine what to do with a vacant Tennessee state prison, and $1 million was given to the Country Music Hall of Fame to help integrate it into the new convention center.

The pork of the year, according to the report, is considered one of the largest corporate welfare catastrophes in Tennessee's history. Hemlock Semiconductor, a $1.2 billion manufacturing plant, was given almost $300 million in taxpayer handouts. Then in February, 300 people were laid off.

Authors of the pork report say year after year, the wasteful spending never stops.

The National Civil Rights Museum later released a detailed response regarding the report. It reads, in part, "The flood waters in 2011 did not directly impact the museum’s assets which was clearly explained in the application, but the museum was impacted economically because about 13,000 fewer visitors came to the museum as a result of a barrage of negative national publicity. The award is intended to support long-term recovery, spur job creation, and leverage private investments. The infrastructure improvements currently underway at the museum will do just that."

The museum's full statement, as well as the complete 2013 Tennessee Pork Report, can be read at the document links at the top of this story.

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