Looking for a textbook example of pork barrel legislation? Pull up a chair and give Assembly Bill 521 a read.
Tacked onto the bill, which focuses on the Capital Improvement Program budget, is a $25 million allocation to the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas, a hospitality training nonprofit with close ties to powerful Culinary Workers Union Local 226.
AB 521 failed to get the necessary votes in the Nevada Senate late Monday, coming up short of the two-thirds approval needed for passage. However, the capital improvement budget bill was passed in a special session Tuesday.
The original bill, introduced May 22, was designed to fund state public works and construction and had no mention of the Culinary Academy, On the last day of regular session, an amendment was added to give the training institute a nice plumb.
Money for the academy is also included in an amended version of Senate Bill 341. Some $6 million will go to a capital improvement project and $4 million for an outreach program. That bill was passed Monday.
The Culinary Academy is well connected with Local 226, which has a long history of political activism. The local is noted for strong support of Democrats, who control both the Nevada Assembly and Senate.
A glance at the board of trustees for the academy shows fully half are linked to the Culinary Union:
- Taylor, president of Unite Here, the parent company of Culinary Union Local 226 and Bartenders Union Local 165;
- Ted Pappageorge, secretary-treasurer for Local 226;
- T. Thomas, field representative for Local 226;
- Diana Vallas, Local 226’s president; and
- Terry Greenwald, secretary-treasurer of Local 165.
Also on the board is Edmond Wong, the academy’s chief executive officer.
The remainder of the board consists of four executives from large gaming and resort companies.
Should anyone be unclear of the union’s influence on the academy, the latter’s website features more than two dozen individuals wearing Unite Here shirts while shouting with arms raised.
Pork barrel legislation such as AB 521 and SB 341 are bad policy because they direct taxpayer funds to specific groups.
But beyond the problems associated with picking winners and losers, these bills are harmful because they include funding allocations that aren’t necessary. The Culinary Union, for example, takes in plenty of money. Culinary Local 226 and Bartenders Local 165 have a combined 60,000 members, which means the union harvests substantial dues from members.
And the Culinary Academy isn’t doing too badly, either. Last year, it received nearly $9 million in contribution and grants, and had additional revenues of more than $7.3 million, for a total of more than $16.4 million, according to information filed with the Internal Revenue Service.
There is also the perception of impropriety associated with handing taxpayer dollars to union-connected operations. Union and labor groups gave nearly $1.5 million in campaign contribution to Nevada state lawmakers during the 2022 election cycle – with nearly 96 percent going to Democrats. The Culinary Union doesn’t make direct campaign contributions, but still offers tangible support.
Culinary Local 226 has “long been among the most singularly powerful political forces in Nevada, often operating en masse through campaign groundwork and door-knocking campaigns to back state, local and federal Democrats up and down the ballot,” according to the Nevada Independent.
Last year, 450 Culinary Union canvassers knocked on more than 1 million doors statewide and had more than 175,000 conversations with voters, the union stated after the 2022 election.
Having taxpayer dollars go to fund private organizations is bad policy. Having funds go to an entity that invests thousands of hours of labor each election cycle to help one party get elected is extremely bad policy.