With the federal budget already in the toilet, the last thing our government needs is to shell out for a nice slab of pork. Yet, Lois Capps and 46 of California’s 56 House representatives seem intent on having ham for dinner on the government’s tab.

Capps and company are pushing for the California Missions Preservation Act of 2002, which would allocate $10 million in federal funding for the renovation and restoration of California’s missions. While their restoration is important, it’s hardly a project worth taking to the federal government for help.

Only two of the 21 missions in California are a part of the State Park system. The rest are owned by the Catholic Church, which claims it doesn’t have the cash to fund restoration projects. At most, the church pays upkeep and operational costs for the missions; hence groups like the California Missions Foundation are dedicated strictly toward preservation.

If anyone should be paying to keep the missions pretty and clean, it should be the Catholic Church. It might be nice if the pope and friends sent a little cash back into the New World, instead of riding on the coattails of federal money to restore their missions, the majority of which are still used today as churches.

The federal government should be the last one to pay for any such preservation projects. It’s unfair for California’s missions to benefit from this deal while other missions across the nation crumble and decay without help from the government.

In March, voters passed proposition 40, which allocated $2.6 billion for conservation efforts concerning California’s parks and open space. The prop earmarked $267 million of the total cash lump specifically for the preservation and restoration of sites associated with California’s cultural history.

The CMF tried to get a piece of the cash to fund their own efforts, but Gov. Davis nixed their plans because of problems surrounding the administrative structure outlined in the CMF’s proposal. So now, instead of concentrating efforts on squeezing out their fair share of cash from the state government, the CMF feels the need to circumvent the state and head straight for Washington.

California missions are an important part of our state’s history. You’d be hard-pressed to find any student of a California public school who hasn’t made a sugar cube model of the mission at San Juan Capistrano. An estimated 5.3 million bored, middle-class folk visit the missions to smell the roses and, in some cases, learn about our state’s brutal past. Also, a majority of the missions act as the home church for numerous Catholics.

There’s a lot of art, history and culture tied up in these crumbling adobe buildings. It would be a shame to see them waste away into nothing more than little brown piles of dried mud.

The CMF, though, is going about things the wrong way. Its efforts to get money from the federal government may seem noble but are really sneaky and misguided.

The state government has the money to keep the missions safe and open for everyone who wants to use them. The CMF’s intentions are noble, but they’re inquiring in the wrong places. Does anyone else smell bacon?