Last week Senator Jim DeMint, Republican from South Carolina, took issue with a grant from the Economic Development Association to Prosser’s Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center. In an editorial in the Wall Street Journal, DeMint asks, “Why Are Taxpayers Paying for Wine Tasting?” To this I ask Senator DeMint, “What’s wrong with wine tasting? And by the way, why are taxpayers subsidizing your state’s tobacco industry?”

Senator DeMint’s editorial is generally focused on wasteful spending. However, he singles out Prosser’s Walter Clore Wine & Culinary Center as a particularly egregious example of abuse.

The Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center is envisioned as a “learning center that promotes regional wine and food by actively engaging visitors to learn, experience and appreciate the quality and diversity of Pacific Northwest wine and food products.” The Center will include: interactive galleries, a theatre, a demonstration kitchen, interpretive vineyards, a wine bar, a retail space, and classrooms. Doesn’t sound too nefarious to me.

Don’t get me wrong. Is building the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center particularly critical at this moment of extreme budget deficits? Probably not. However, is this $2M grant particularly worthy of scorn as DeMint suggests? No. Rather it would appear that it draws DeMint’s attention because it has something to do with wine. Wine tasting. It sounds so ugly and so French doesn’t it?

Let me take a crack at answering the senator’s question.

Senator DeMint, why should the government support a project that promotes the Washington wine industry? Because this industry creates an estimated 29,000 jobs nationwide and has a $4.7 billion impact on the U.S. economy according to the Washington Wine Commission. I should note that the EDA’s function is, “to generate jobs, help retain existing jobs, and stimulate industrial and commercial growth in economically distressed areas.” Funding this center in Prosser would seem well within its mission.

I found it interesting that you singled out this particular project in Washington rather than focusing on those closer to home. As I’m sure you know, South Carolina has been no stranger to receiving EDA money in recent years. Among the grants in 2010 was a $1.25 million grant to Clemson University for building renovations. Is this so different from funding the construction of the Clore building? Was the Clemson building work really in our “national interests?”

I too have concerns about wasteful spending, particularly the almost $17M in tobacco subsidies that the US government gave South Carolina last year. With 443,000 tobacco related deaths each year, I’m having a hard time feeling that my taxpayer money is well spent. I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

I agree that there is a serious discussion about government spending to be had in Washington. But singling out the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center is just the same sort of nonsense and hypocrisy that Washington has become so well known for, don’t you think?