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Principles for judging federal earmarks and local pork


Information about federal earmarks and local pork is increasingly available.

On November 30, 2010 Grassroot Institute of Hawaii announced its new webpage providing detailed information about the state budget and allowing individual comments from the public regarding questionable expenditures:
http://hawaiisunshine.org/

A related GRIH webpage provides a list of about 800 race-specific government and private programs "for Hawaiians only":
http://4hawaiiansonly.com/

At the federal level, the Senate on Tuesday rejected a rule that would have banned earmarks. During the debate Senator Dan Inouye (D, HI), Chairman of the Appropriations Committee and local king of pork, spoke at length against such a ban.

Meanwhile a House rule throughout 2009-2010 requires members of the House of Representatives to post information on the earmarks they submit to the Appropriations Committee, on their official House website at the time the request is made. Each request is required to include the proposed recipient's name and address; the amount of the request; and an explanation of the earmark's purpose and why it's a valuable use of taxpayer funds.

The two Grassroot Institute webpages mentioned above unfortunately do not yet include that sort of detail, either because the state government refused to provide it or because it's time-consuming or impossible to get that information for private grants.

Congressman Charles Djou, during his brief time in office, voted against most new federal spending even when it would have brought money to Hawaii. As a fiscal conservative and man of principle, he apparently refused to request any earmarks. His empty earmark list is at
http://djou.house.gov/about/funding-requests.shtml

Congresswoman Mazie Hirono, however, supported nearly every spending bill and aggressively grabbed federal money through earmarks. Her disclosure webpage shows each earmark as a clickable link providing the required details. Here's her long list for the current fiscal year alone:
http://hirono.house.gov/fy2011appropriations/fy2011appropriations.htm

Browsing through Horono's earmarks and thinking carefully about them led me to a few conclusions about appropriations in general and earmarks in particular.

1. It's bad to make people from everywhere pay for projects that benefit only one particular place. Citizens of Ohio should not be taxed to pay for Hirono's "industry-directed research to enhance the competitiveness of the floriculture industry in Hawaii" nor "to provide flood protection to residential and commercial lands in the southern part of Lahaina and to reduce the amount of sediment entering nearshore waters." Likewise, citizens of Hawaii should not be taxed to pay for similar local projects in Ohio. Making local people raise their own taxes to pay for local projects is the best way to know whether those projects are worthwhile. Not only are federal earmarks inappropriate for flood protection in Lahaina, even state tax dollars may be inappropriate. Maui people don't want to pay for Honolulu's rail project, and Honolulu people shouldn't have to pay for projects benefitting only southern Lahaina.

2. Airports, harbors, national parks, military construction, highways connecting different states, etc. are truly of national importance. Local people are good at realizing when such things need improvement. Therefore members of Congress are correct to request money for them, such as Hirono's earmark "to restore critical habitat for numerous protected species on Kure Atoll in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument" and another earmark "to remove two sunken fishing vessels from the reefs at Kingman Reef and Palmyra Atoll National Marine Refuges, both of which are components of the newly proclaimed Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument." Whether those national monuments should have been proclaimed is open to debate; but having been proclaimed it then becomes important to protect and maintain them.

3. Earmarks are not emergencies. They should be available for public scrutiny long before they are enacted into law, not inserted at the last minute or hidden deep inside unrelated bills.

4. There should be a central webpage listing everyone's earmarks. Hirono's list makes her earmarks transparent and accountable. But would anyone outside Hawaii routinely look at her list?

5. Should there be a ban on all earmarks to stop the craziness? Government money should not be regarded as an unlimited horn of plenty that nobody pays for. Under the current system politicians have an incentive to grab as much as possible for their own local districts, because nearly all the taxes will be paid by people from other places who cannot retaliate. Charles Djou apparently did the noble thing, standing on principle and not taking earmarks; however, he thereby abandoned his duty to our local people to bring home the bacon. Mazie Hirono is bringing home bacon plus entire herds of pigs; but bankrupting our nation. One way to deal with the problem is to ban all earmarks. Otherwise, require that every earmark be included only in the single bill most closely related to its subject matter, and already present in that bill when it has a committee hearing. There's not enough time for every earmark to be a freestanding bill or even to be challenged; but it should be easily possible to discover, challenge, and remove the most outrageous ones.


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(c) Copyright 2010 Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D. All rights reserved