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Budget Digest a system we've allowed ourselves to tolerate

At a time when our state lawmakers talk of budget woes and the federal deficit climbs to numbers most of us can't even write, let alone comprehend, our leaders continue to dole out pork to projects with limited range of impact.

As The Associated Press reported on Monday, state lawmakers will spend the next few months finalizing the "Budget Digest," which allows a handful of powerful legislators to distribute millions to pet projects.

Granted, some of those projects are legitimate and may actually help the state. But it would seem legitimate projects should withstand the test of scrutiny instead of cowering behind closed doors as key legislators finagle them into existence.

The Budget Digest also allows those powerful legislators to wield undue influence over other lawmakers: Don't follow the leader and your district could be scrambling for money as you scramble for re-election.

It's an age-old practice that has withstood some legal challenge and many elections, neither of which makes it the best thing for our state.

But while that system is perverse at best, our federal leaders have perfected pork-barrelling to an art form, working requests into the budget with a sleight-of-hand Houdini would be proud of.

And while our senior senator, Robert C. Byrd, has earned the label "King of Pork," from some, we would argue most of his pet projects have legitimacy and have aided this state immensely.

Still, the way monies are appropriated both on the state and federal level leave too much room for debate.

Closed-door budgeting and hocus-pocus legislating aren't good for democracy.

But it's the system we've allowed ourselves to tolerate. And it's likely the reason why budget deficits are the legacy we'll leave our children's children.

John G. Miller