A Million Here, A Million There …

Almost no one has a kind word for pork — at least not for the political kind. A popular form of the pork barrel in recent years has been the “earmark,” designating revenue in Congress to be used for a specific project.

Check it out after the jump.

The most notorious earmark in recent years was the 2005 appropriation of $223 million by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) for a bridge — labeled the “Bridge to Nowhere” by people with a grudge against small towns — between an Alaska town of 9,000 and an island on which 50 people lived, saving the latter a brief ferry ride. The earmark was eventually removed.

President George Bush has also taken a courageous stand against the pork barrel represented by earmarks. In his State of the Union message in January, he said:

In 2005 alone, the number of earmarks grew to over 13,000 and totaled nearly $18 billion. Even worse, over 90 percent of the earmarks never make it to the floor of the House and the Senate; they’re dropped into committee reports that are not even part of the bill that arrives on my desk.

You didn’t vote them into law. I didn’t sign them into law. Yet they are treated as if they have the force of law. The time has come to end this practice.

So let us work together to reform the budget process, expose every earmark to the light of day and to a vote in Congress, and cut the number and cost of earmarks at least in half by the end of this session.

(APPLAUSE)

In pointing the accusing finger at earmarkers, the federal Office of Management and Budget has released all of the fiscal year   2005 earmarks in the appropriations and authorization bills. Colorado received 150 earmarks, totaling $175.1 million. The largest amounts went for Department of Defense projects — $74 million —  with the Department of Transportation ($36.3 million) and Department of Energy ($22.3 million) coming in a distant second and third.

Curiously, though the effort seems designed to shame profligate congressional spenders into curtailing their habits, the database “is not designed, and cannot accurately be used, to identify the individual congressional sponsors of earmarks,” OMB says

Anyway, while we all work ourselves into a high dudgeon about pork barrel spending, a closer look at these matters don’t usually reveal anything that scandalous. The largest defense programs funded in Colorado were $4 million to the University of Colorado for the Army’s MANPRINT program, which “is designed to ensure that the soldier and unit needs are considered throughout the entire system acquisition process and life cycle.” This doesn’t strike us as exactly a boondoggle.

One of the federal agencies with the most influence in Colorado is the Department of the Interior. The largest earmark in this agency was for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to spend $753,000 to buy land for the Baca National Wildlife Refuge in the San Luis Valley, a series of land acquisitions that have been underway for several years.

According to Refuge Manager Mike Blenden, the money was the final installment of roughly $14 million used to buy the protected land from the Nature Conservancy, a purchase that had been under way in stages since 2003. Blenden says that the refuge is still in negotiation with the state of Colorado and the Bureau of Land Management for a 21,000-acre exchange to round out the site.

According to the OMB explanation of this item, it is an earmark because it is “funding Congress provided above the requested amount for this project.” Since the conference committee amount agreed on for the budget was $37.5 million — for lands to be managed by the National Park Service in Great Sand Dunes National Park and by USFWS in the refuge — the earmark represents only about two percent of the appropriation.

Another earmark, for $690,000, is to help recover endangered fish in the Colorado River system.

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Dan Whipple

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