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GOP Leader Eyes ‘Smokey Bear’ Balloon Funding Cut

The Smokey Bear hot-air balloon rising over the General Mills plant in Albuquerque in 2005. (Greg Peretti / Journal)
The Smokey Bear hot-air balloon rising over the General Mills plant in Albuquerque in 2005. (Greg Peretti / Journal)
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A well-known hot air balloon of a New Mexico-born fire prevention icon is now at a center of a tug of war over federal spending.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday during the Senate’s opening day that the Smokey Bear balloon was a waste of taxpayer dollars. The Senate’s top Republican from Kentucky said if Congress couldn’t agree to cut federal funding for the hot air balloon, then “there’s no hope at all.”

The Albuquerque-based balloon has long been a regular at Albuquerque’s International Balloon Fiesta, and has flown internationally. Since 2005, the U.S. Forest Service has spent nearly $240,000 to help pay for balloon costs.

Retired state forester Bill Chapel told KRQE-TV that he would fight any effort to cut funding and says the balloon is a teaching tool.

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