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Free plane tickets, $20 million for water park, and almost $1 billion in incentives to bring Ford to Tennessee called out in "Pork Report"

This is the Beacon Center's 16th annual report looking at government spending in the state.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — From free plane tickets for tourists, to $20 million of taxpayer money spent to help pay for a waterpark in Jackson, Tennessee, to an $18 million no-bid contract for COVID-19 monitoring: those are just a few of the things classified as "pork" in this year's Beacon Center "Pork Report."  

The Beacon Center of Tennessee, a non-profit think tank, puts together the report annually, which highlights alleged government waste.

On the list in West Tennessee is the $20 million in incentives for the Great Wolf Lodge and Waterpark project.   The company plans to build the hotel and waterpark in 2022. 

The Pork report also lists the $1,000 grants the Shelby County Commission gave to service workers as "pork," and it cited the "Tennessee on Me" promotion that gave tourists free plane tickets to travel to the state as "pork" as well. 

“I don’t think that residents view direct benefits to restaurant workers who were impacted by the pandemic as 'pork',” said Shelby County Mayor’s Office Press Secretary Frankie Dakin. "Restaurant workers endured reduced hours, lay-offs, and restaurant shut downs for the safety of our community during the worst times of the pandemic.”

"This is not a Republican or Democrat thing. Both sides have really wasted money this year," said Beacon Center spokesperson Mark Cunningham.  

Cunningham said many of the items on the list in 2021 are related to the pandemic. For example, the $18 million no-bid contract the Nashville Public Schools handed out to Meharry Medical Contract for COVID-19 testing and monitoring won the "Pork of the Year" award. 

Also on the list is the $25 million Shelby County Schools spent to buy air filtration systems to improve ventilation in schools for students returning to the classroom. SCS defends the spend. 

"Not familiar with the term 'pork' really, but I certainly don't consider it waste. Obviously, we made a decision based on the best information available to us at the time. At the time we were trying to improve our indoor air quality before returning to our in-person instruction, said Genard Phillips, Chief of Business Operations, Shelby County Schools.

Also on the list is the nearly billion-dollars worth of incentives the state of Tennessee is giving Ford Motor Company to build Blue Oval City at the West Tennessee Regional Megasite.

"While Governor Lee and everyone who did this is well-intentioned, this is not the role of government to be giving Ford one billion in tax dollars," said Cunningham. 

Bobby White, Chief Public Policy Officer with the Greater Memphis Chamber, said he does not consider the incentive package 'pork.'

RELATED: Over $200 million of taxpayer money wasted in Tennessee in 2019, according to report

RELATED: Annual Tennessee ‘Pork Report’ Highlights Wasteful Spending

"I would not use that term at all," said White, "It's not just the largest investment in Tennessee's history, it's Ford's largest investment."

White went on to say the Blue Oval City project will create thousands of jobs and benefit our region's economy.

"It is not just the direct jobs. It is also the indirect jobs and the companies that will move to the region," said White.