Earmark process needs to be stopped

Published 3:05 am Wednesday, January 30, 2008

By Staff
When Alaska gets $750,000 for grasshopper research, we call it pork-barrel politics.
When North Carolina gets the same amount for a study into growing peanuts, we sit back and say it’s a wise use of taxpayer money.
What is, and isn’t, pork-barrel spending can largely depend on where you are living and if you stand to benefit. We complain about it when it happens elsewhere, but we gladly accept the money when it benefits us and re-elect those who provide us the cash.
Monday night, President Bush said the process must stop.
The president planned to issue an executive order Tuesday ordering federal agencies to ignore earmarks that aren’t explicitly enacted into law, erasing a common practice in which lawmakers’ projects are outlined in nonbinding documents that accompany legislation.
Will it hurt North Carolina? Sure it will. The Tarheel state and eastern North Carolina have benefited in the past from congressional earmarks. Just last week, the U.S. Highway 17 bypass project in Washington was the recipient of $367,000 in additional federal funds. Nobody locally complained. Some view it as “free money” but it’s not. The federal government is funded through taxes, taxes we pay.
The N.C. Department of Transportation is spending $3 million a mile to four-lane portions of the road. The extra $367,000 is a drop in the bucket when you consider the project is costing $200 million. As much as we’d love to see U.S. 17 with four lanes, we can’t accept that money and still complain when like sums go to other areas without the benefit of proper debate.
The individual amounts of congressional earmarks may seem tiny in the scope of the entire federal budget, but combined the total is staggering. Last year, it was $16.9 billion for 11,700 special interest projects.
White House press secretary Dana Perino told CBS that President Bush decided to restrict earmarks going forward — not backward — because Congress first deserved “a very clear indication of what he was going to do.”
We’re not saying that members of Congress shouldn’t have a say in how federal dollars are spent. If a senator truly believes a municipality in his or her state deserves federal funds for a new sewer plant, let him or her put the project in the pipeline and then make his or her argument and have the issue brought to a vote. What we don’t condone is the process of slipping in projects without a debate, or an even the knowledge of others.
We applaud President Bush for sending a powerful message.