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Quirky projects funded by taxpayer dollars in every state

  • Aqua Mechanical // Flickr
    1/ Aqua Mechanical // Flickr

    Quirky projects funded by taxpayer dollars in every state

    Benjamin Franklin said there are only two things certain in life: death and taxes. The latter helps to keep cities, states, and country going—but that doesn't mean every dollar is going toward equal causes.

    It's public knowledge that most taxation gets allocated for public transportation, schools, parks, defense, public works, and the like. But have you ever wondered where the rest of your tax money goes?  

    There are certainly some lesser-known, highly unusual, and even on occasion frivolous projects being funded every day by taxpayer money. Through Stacker's own independent research, we found examples of tax dollars going toward everything from fancy bus stops and glow-in-the-dark billboards to teaching animals to run and potato chip PR—as well as interactive art and innovative outreach.

    Check out this list to see an example of quirky projects being funded by your state—and then see what all the other states are up to.

    ALSO: States where people receive the biggest tax refunds

  • Redditaddict69 // Wikicommons
    2/ Redditaddict69 // Wikicommons

    Alabama: Right to privacy

    The Department of Justice spent $500,000 to install powerful, high-quality surveillance cameras in Baldwin County courtrooms. The cameras were able to zoom in on computer screens and text messages, as well as overhear conversations between attorneys and their clients. Eventually, they were deemed too powerful to use because they violated people's constitutional rights to privacy.


     

  • Piergiuliano Chesi // Wikicommons
    3/ Piergiuliano Chesi // Wikicommons

    Alaska: The airport to nowhere

    Akutan, Alaska, spent more than $100 million on an airport and harbor that are essentially inaccessible and sit unused. The airport cost $75 million and the harbor $29 million. There are only five boats in the entire town—and the harbor has connecting roads to the town. As for the airport? there are no airlines running so it is also unused.


     

  • Famartin // Wikicommons
    4/ Famartin // Wikicommons

    Arizona: Smartphone parking app

    Arizona State University (ASU) was awarded almost $150,000 to develop a parking management system powered entirely by smartphone apps. There are other privately owned parking apps in the area, but the ASU campus was the pilot program for this app. The app measures people's driving data and gives them a better parking experience.


     

  • Master Sgt. Jeff Walston // U.S. Air Force photo
    5/ Master Sgt. Jeff Walston // U.S. Air Force photo

    Arkansas: Unbuilt veteran housing

    A $60,000 General Improvement Fund grant was awarded in 2013 to a West Memphis nonprofit that promised to use the money to build a three-quarter transitional home that would provide shelter for homeless veterans. Yet upon a 2017 progress review, no such structure had been implemented for the project by Creative Strategies Community Development Corp.—although the organization had bought a small home that it rents out.


     

  • Pixabay
    6/ Pixabay

    California: Treadmill-running mountain lions

    Have you ever thought about if mountain lions could be trained to run on a treadmill? The scientists at the University of California–Santa Cruz were curious about it. They spent $856,000 in federal grant money on seeing whether they could teach the wild animals to run on the machine. In fairness, the mountain lions did learn—so maybe it wasn't a total waste?

  • pixel2008 // Flickr
    7/ pixel2008 // Flickr

    Colorado: Banning the tanning

    The Department of Health and Human Services spent $676,147 to persuade mothers to persuade their daughters to stop using tanning beds as well as drum up support for a legal ban of the beds. The campaign was blasted across all social media platforms including Instagram, Youtube, and Facebook.


     

  • Doug Kerr // Flickr
    8/ Doug Kerr // Flickr

    Connecticut: A $10 million soccer stadium

    The governor of Connecticut approved a budget of $10 million to construct a new soccer stadium in the city of Hartford. The state has approved other frivolous spending, but the soccer stadium is by far the most expensive.


     

  • LoverOfArt // Wikicommons
    9/ LoverOfArt // Wikicommons

    Delaware: Vacant housing

    Wilmington, Delaware, in 2017 was awarded more than $5 million to clean up and address abandoned and foreclosed properties across the city and state. The money is additionally being used to create new housing projects and help families and individuals who are in need of housing assistance.


     

  • LaggedOnUser // Flickr
    10/ LaggedOnUser // Flickr

    Florida: It’s turtle time!

    Turtles are a major part of the Florida landscape and are beloved by many Floridians. People love the reptiles so much, in fact, that Florida lawmakers approved a $3.4 million tunnel made especially for turtles so they can cross major highways safely.


     

  • MaxPixel
    11/ MaxPixel

    Georgia: Virtual weight-loss program

    Virtually Better INC was awarded in 2012 a $225,000 grant from the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a virtual weight loss system that worked not by getting people to actually lose the weight, but by helping them form habits that could lead to weight loss. The second phase of this project garnered an additional $1,264,285.


     

  • Michael Gunther // Wikicommons
    12/ Michael Gunther // Wikicommons

    Hawaii: Hawaiian Chocolate Festival

    In 2011, Hawaii received $48,700 from the Department of Agriculture to fund the Second Annual Hawaii Chocolate Festival. Tickets for the festival were $25 each at the door and attendees received 10 samples of chocolate during the five-hour event. 


     

  • A1C Trevor Gordnier // U.S. Air Force photo
    13/ A1C Trevor Gordnier // U.S. Air Force photo

    Idaho: The gun show

    While the right to bear arms is covered by the second amendment, the government is not supposed to fund the industry. That wasn't clear in Idaho because $24,000 was given to the Idaho Firearms and Accessories Manufacturers Association to study the economics of the state's gun industry.


     

  • Poco a poco // Wikicommons
    14/ Poco a poco // Wikicommons

    Illinois: A failed Westin in Lombard

    An Illinois suburb has been funding a 500-room Westin hotel for more than a decade, using taxpayer money. Last year, the hotel filed for bankruptcy and the funded $4.3 million was lost. At the time of filing, the Westin was $246.6 million in debt. DuPage County, home to Lombard, has the second-highest property taxes in the state of Illinois.


     

  • U.S. Department of Agriculture // Wikicommons
    15/ U.S. Department of Agriculture // Wikicommons

    Indiana: Their beloved Colts

    NFL stadiums cost taxpayers a lot of money—about $3 billion, to be exact. However, the residents of Indiana shell out the big bucks for the Indianapolis Colts. According to a 2017 report, more than $600 million in taxpayer money goes into funding the Lucas Oil Stadium.


     

  • Crcjfly // Wikicommons
    16/ Crcjfly // Wikicommons

    Iowa: Pizza please

    To create more of an inviting feel, a pizzeria in Iowa was given a $60,000 Main Street challenge grant. The funds, awarded by the Iowa Department of Economic Development Main Street Iowa board, came from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.


     

  • Aviper2k7 // Wikicommons
    17/ Aviper2k7 // Wikicommons

    Kansas: No-bid contracts

    The Kansas government has been racking up pretty pennies in thousands of no-bid contracts in recent years. The number of no-bid contracts since 2013 has grown by more than 4,500, which costs about $160 million within the same time frame. Now, the number has surpassed 7,000 with a cost of $428 million.


     

  • wong_ken // Flickr
    18/ wong_ken // Flickr

    Kentucky: Cocaine and quails

    To find out if cocaine use increases your sex drive, the National Institute of Health awarded $175,000 to the University of Kentucky to perform a study...using Japanese quails. All told, the research cost more than $340,000 and lasted more than two years.

  • The Library of Congress // Flickr
    19/ The Library of Congress // Flickr

    Louisiana: Mardi Gras float

    The United States Coast Guard spent more than $24,000 on a float in the NOLA Mardi Gras parade in 2011. The float was primarily used as a recruitment tool to help boost sign ups and educate people on the importance of the Coast Guard.


     

  • Public Domain Pictures
    20/ Public Domain Pictures

    Maine: New Apple products for children

    In the age of technology, and one school district in Maine is taking that very seriously. Auburn in 2011 found $228,000 to buy every kindergarten student an iPad—funding which included $96,000 in leftover federal stimulus money.


     

  • tedeytan // Wikicommons
    21/ tedeytan // Wikicommons

    Maryland: LGBT community and tobacco

    The Department of Health and Human Services in 2016 awarded $564,176 to the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in order to explore the perception of tobacco stigmatization among LGBT adults. The study specifically looked at undesirable consequences of denormalization of tobacco in the LGBT community.


     

  • MaxVT // Wikicommons
    22/ MaxVT // Wikicommons

    Massachusetts: Solar panels at Manchester-Boston Airport

    A federal grant of $3.5 million was used to install solar panels on top of the parking garages at the Manchester-Boston Airport, but it ended up being a major fail on their part. A quarter of the panels had to be removed because they were blinding pilots during takeoff and landing.


     

  • Rachel Kramer // Wikicommons
    23/ Rachel Kramer // Wikicommons

    Michigan: Christmas tree PR

    Did you know that Michigan plays a major role in the life of a Christmas tree? Well, the state wants it known because $75,000 of taxpayer money was used to increase awareness of the fact that Michigan is the third-largest producer of Christmas trees. The name of the campaign? “Make it a Real Michigan Christmas.”


     

  • Tony Webster // Flickr
    24/ Tony Webster // Flickr

    Minnesota: Make it snow

    The Minnesota city of Duluth is the fourth-snowiest city in the United States; getting on average more than 80 inches of snow a year. Still, the city somehow managed to secure $6 million for a snowmaking facility at Spirit Mountain Recreation Area.


     

  • Mark Wolfe // Wikicommons
    25/ Mark Wolfe // Wikicommons

    Mississippi: Fleet vehicles

    Residents here been critical of the Mississippi Department of Transportation for misusing funds. Money that should be going toward repairing roadways, for example, was found being used instead to finance more fleet vehicles for the department.


     

  • Public Domain Pictures
    26/ Public Domain Pictures

    Missouri: Recognition awards

    The Missouri Government loves to celebrate its government agencies. Over the years, Missouri spent more than $3 million in recognition awards. The dollar amount of these awards caused budget cuts in education and emergency communication.


     

  • Pixabay
    27/ Pixabay

    Montana: Sheep spending

    The Department of Agriculture gave a three-year grant of almost $743,000 to Montana State University to study the connection between sheep grazing and organic farming. With their findings, the university will develop two new college courses. It has been a long-understood fact that sheep graze, leading some to wonder about the relevance of such research.  


     

  • Aqua Mechanical // Flickr
    28/ Aqua Mechanical // Flickr

    Nebraska: Pet shampoo project

    Sergeant's Pet Care Products secured $505,000 from the government for new machinery and equipment to product more pet shampoo, toothpaste, and other care products for your furry friends. The grant was expected to help the company add 58 new full-time positions.

     

  • Famartin // Wikicommons
    29/ Famartin // Wikicommons

    Nevada: How many trees are there?

    A census is usually performed when the government wants to know how many people are living in an area, and how those people live. However, in 2011, Nevada used $60,000 of taxpayer money to run a tree census to take a tree inventory in the area (there are 15,000). Of course, the grant wasn't just for counting—the data includes site characteristics, maintenance, location, and species tracking. The information was to be used for an updated tree maintenance plan.


     

  • John Phelan // Wikicommons
    30/ John Phelan // Wikicommons

    New Hampshire: Protect the pumpkins

    The small town of Keene, New Hampshire, has about 23,000 people and 40 police officers. Crime levels here are extremely low; but that didn't stop the town from accepting $243,000 for a BearCat armored vehicle, mostly to patrol events like the pumpkin festival.


     

  • Gryffindor // Wikicommons
    31/ Gryffindor // Wikicommons

    New Jersey: Sandy emergency funds directed toward tourism

    After the superstorm that was Hurricane Sandy slammed the east coast in 2012, New Jersey was given part of $6 million to fund the rebuild of cities. However, most of that was allegedly misused to fund tourism advertisements for the Garden State.

     

  • Thomas Shahan // Wikicommons
    32/ Thomas Shahan // Wikicommons

    New Mexico: Should we be happy?

    New Mexico State University was given almost $25,000 to develop a course called “Should We Want to Be Happy?” The scope of the class would focus on what it means to be happy and where that feeling comes from.


     

  • Public Domain
    33/ Public Domain

    New York: North Fork potato chips

    The government thought New York's Martin Sidor Farms needed some help with marketing, despite the fact that the company was named the snack of the day on the "Rachael Ray Show." The farm was awarded $50,000 to increase brand awareness and drive consumer sales.


     

  • MaxPixel
    34/ MaxPixel

    North Carolina: Study on grandparents and video games

    It's not just the younger generation that is affected by video games—a research team from North Carolina State University and Georgia Tech used a grant worth $1.2 million from the National Science Foundation to study whether computer games might be able to inhibit mental decline in the elderly.


     

  • Pixabay
    35/ Pixabay

    North Dakota: Educational spending

    North Dakota has increased state spending on education, primarily K-12, over the past few years. The increase was said to be 80% over the course of only a few years—however, the state did not see any payoff in terms of bettering the students.


     

  • Jim Bowen // Flickr
    36/ Jim Bowen // Flickr

    Ohio: Underwater robot

    Columbus, Ohio, used $98,000 to purchase an underwater robot to assist with underwater rescues. This was part of a project put in place by the federal government to help urban areas respond better to dire situations.


     

  • Caleb Long // WIkicommons
    37/ Caleb Long // WIkicommons

    Oklahoma: State swag

    Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin in 2017 claimed state office spending of nonessential swag items like promotional stress balls, pens, mugs, and bags were costing the state up to $58 million in taxpayer money each year. Fallin ordered a statewide moratorium through June of 2018 on such items.

  • Visitor7 // WIkicommons
    38/ Visitor7 // WIkicommons

    Oregon: Archway to Cottage

    The USDA in 2012 awarded Cottage Grove, Oregon, $15,000 to add a bit of pizzazz to its historic district. The $15,000 grant went toward a new archway that leads right onto the main street of Cottage Grove.


     

  • WestCoastivieS // WIkicommons
    39/ WestCoastivieS // WIkicommons

    Pennsylvania: Tweets and heart disease

    The National Institute of Health awarded a $668,000 grant to the University of Pennsylvania in 2016 to study the connection between Twitter use and heart health. The project is a follow-up to a previous study of keywords that demonstrated fatigue, interpersonal tension, and hostility, suggesting a higher risk of death from atherosclerotic heart disease.


     

  • Nik Frey (niksan) // Wikicommons
    40/ Nik Frey (niksan) // Wikicommons

    Rhode Island: The effects of alcohol

    Brown University was given $180,000 to study the effects of alcohol on gay, minority men. The research focused on how alcohol affects the sex drive and sexual decisions of men.


     

  • Marco Verch // Flickr
    41/ Marco Verch // Flickr

    South Carolina: Meditation apps and high blood pressure

    The Medical University of South Carolina was awarded almost $700,000 by the National Institutes of Health to fight high blood pressure. To accomplish this, they tested a meditation app on ages 21–50 to see whether it could help to regulate the subjects' high blood pressure.


     

  • Don Graham // FLickr
    42/ Don Graham // FLickr

    South Dakota: Hobo Day

    The National Endowment for the Arts gave $12,000 to South Dakota State University to help preserve the school's long-standing “Hobo Day." Since 1912, the homecoming event has included a parade through campus and downtown Brookings, football game, and various other activities.


     

  • Public Domain // Wikicommons
    43/ Public Domain // Wikicommons

    Tennessee: Fruits and vegetables promo

    The University of Tennessee used $4.9 million in taxpayer money to promote healthy eating and fight obesity among college students through a “Get Fruved" campaign. The social media and outreach campaign is titled as a blend word alluding to fruits and vegetables  The initiative, for which UT partnered with 13 other schools, involved students dressing up as fruits and vegetables, organizing dance parties, and gardening on campus.


     

  • Derek Key // Flickr
    44/ Derek Key // Flickr

    Texas: Mellow Mushroom Pizza

    The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded a grant of $484,000 to CSSD Mushroom, Inc., to build a new structure in Arlington, Texas, for the Mellow Mushroom Pizza restaurant. The funding for the hippie-themed, national pizza chain was expected to create at least 36 new, full-time jobs.


     

  • Ntsimp // Wikicommons
    45/ Ntsimp // Wikicommons

    Utah: The mobile app lab

    The U.S. Economic Development Administration awarded $1 million in 2012 to the Ogden City Corporation of Ogden, Utah, to help establish a “mobile apps lab.” The lab was designed to offer space for business startups and training for new workers in the growing mobile devices and software applications field. Over the next decade, the lab was anticipated to generate $4.6 million and create 750 jobs.


     

  • Daniel Case // Wikicommons
    46/ Daniel Case // Wikicommons

    Vermont: Critter crossing

    The Conservation Commission in Vermont received $150,000 from the federal government to install a culvert under a busy road so salamanders and other amphibians could safely cross the street. The location was carefully selected, as the tunnel would provide these animals with a safe passage to a specific swamp they use every year for mating.


     

  • Famartin // Wikicommons
    47/ Famartin // Wikicommons

    Virginia: $1 million bus stop

    If you want to see what a $1 million bus stop looks like, head to Arlington, Virginia. Built by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and funded with money from county, state, and federal governments, the bus stop has heated concrete floors, 10-in-high curbs, space for two buses to pull up at once, and shelter sufficient for up to 15 people.

     

  • Pxhere
    48/ Pxhere

    Washington: Wine

    The Federal Economic Development Administration in 2011 awarded $2 million to Washington State's Clore Center and the Port of Benton in order to help create the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center. The $4 project would create several indoor and outdoor spaces to be used for a tasting room, classroom, and office space including conference rooms, shops, and vineyard areas to be used for education.


     

  • a200/a77Wells // Flickr
    49/ a200/a77Wells // Flickr

    West Virginia: Lego roads Instead of real ones

    Martinsburg, West Virginia, museum “For the Kids, By George" received $3,700 from a National Scenic Byways grant to support interactive projects, including a 1920s-era streetscape out of Legos. The permanent exhibit was chided by some for getting funding at a time when thousands of actual West Virginia bridges and roads were in need of repairs and upgrades.


     

  • Pxhere
    50/ Pxhere

    Wisconsin: Unused bridges get a makeover

    There are 37 bridges in a Wisconsin county that average just 568 vehicles a day. The light traffic didn't dissuade a $15.8 federal stimulus package a decade ago from supporting repair or replacement projects for the structures.


     

  • Chevsapher // Wikicommons
    51/ Chevsapher // Wikicommons

    Wyoming: School district disaster

    A Wyoming school district found itself in some hot water when it became public that the district used a huge portion of its $9.6 million in contributions on things other than education. Instead, the Natrona County School District—which employees 2,500 people and has 12,975 enrolled students—has 1,400 workers with access to district cards. There were 28,000 transactions made in 2017, averaging 76 transactions every day. About $287,000 of the funding was used at 457 restaurants (including $6,195 at Krispy Kreme), $622,000 on travel (United Airlines alone made $102,000 off the district), and $1.08 million on entertainment (including $317,000 to Amazon and more than $10,000 to Amazon).

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