WASHINGTON — The new federal budget that won final approval Friday in Congress provides a record level of funding for lawmakers' pet projects, including money to begin building a new federal courthouse in Los Angeles and to renovate the federal office building in Santa Ana.
A taxpayer group Friday projected that the so-called pork easily would surpass last year's record of 4,326 projects throughout the nation, which cost $17.7 billion. An aide to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a frequent critic of such spending, estimated that the cost in the new budget would approach $24 billion.
The Washington-based Citizens Against Government Waste had combed through seven of the budget's 13 spending bills as of Friday and counted 4,400 projects costing taxpayers $15.9 billion.
For California, the total through eight of the bills was 282 projects costing $417 million, the group said.
Among the items: $35 million for land acquisition and design for a new Los Angeles federal courthouse and about $28 million to renovate the Santa Ana federal building.
The budget also includes $20 million for the first phase of a $43-million Food and Drug Administration laboratory-office complex, to be built adjacent to UC Irvine.
California lawmakers also secured $2 million for the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana; $2 million for the Oakland Military Institute, a proposed college-preparatory school pushed by Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown; $1.25 million for UC Riverside's Center for Exotic Pest Research; and $750,000 to begin engineering to deepen the main channel at the Port of Los Angeles.
Among the projects packed into a bill funding the departments of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs: restoration of the Old Mint in San Francisco, $500,000; construction of a fire station in Pasadena, $860,000; expanding the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, $250,000.
Some of the spending that taxpayer groups include in their pork barrel category is stoutly defended by lawmakers.
Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas) used his clout as chairman of the House Rules Committee to secure $25 million for cleaning up contaminated ground water in his San Gabriel Valley district.
"I don't see it as pork," he said. "I see it as a step to ensure that the potential contamination of drinking water for 7 million Southern Californians is addressed."
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Los Angeles), who sought funding for the new federal courthouse, said the existing facility, built in 1938, is too small. That has forced the court to divide operations between the courthouse and a facility three blocks away.
Rep. Stephen Horn (R-Long Beach) secured $9.8 million to complete a flood-control project. He noted that the project will relieve his constituents of the expense of having to buy flood insurance.
Still, GOP congressional leaders made no secret that some projects were loaded into the budget mainly to help endangered congressmen.
Rep. James E. Rogan (R-Glendale) secured $46 million for traffic improvements in his district. But he still lost the November election to Democrat Adam Schiff.
California received a major part of funds for land conservation and preservation projects, including $5 million for a visitors center at the Manzanar camp where Japanese-Americans were confined during World War II, $2 million for land acquisition in Angeles National Forest and $2 million for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
Peter Sperry, federal budget policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, said he is cautiously optimistic that the next Congress will rein in spending for pet projects.
"It looks like it's reaching the point where even some of the members are saying, 'Wait a moment. We're going overboard,' " Sperry said.
Thomas A. Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, said he, too, hopes that spending for projects will decline under a Bush administration, in part because Republicans also retained control of Congress.
That could mean Bush will not need to engage in the same kind of horse-trading that President Clinton did. Schatz said that, as Clinton pushed for spending increases for his favorite programs, some GOP lawmakers would respond: "OK, we'll give you yours, if you give us ours." He added: "We hope, with a different White House, we'll have a different level of spending being requested and more resistance when these items come through."
Sperry lamented that Congress did not cut spending for some projects as it reconvened for a lame-duck session after the election.
"You would think they would at least go back and eliminate the pork projects for the members who lost," he said.