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Sunday, January 23, 2011


In our chapter on Congress (p. 410), we discuss earmarks, legislative directives setting aside funds for a specific purpose in a district or state. They have become controversial in recent years. The House has put a moratorium on them, while the Senate has not. The Naples [Florida] Daily News reports:

Earmarks are expenditures aimed at projects that are local in nature, and are usually specific to a Congressional district, said Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

The debate about whether earmarks should be allowed is a constant one, but MacManus said the decision to ban earmarks – even if only for a short time – has the most significant effect on local governments.

“Local governments are most stressed,” she said. “Local governments have been dependent on the money flowing down, and (the freeze) has a chain effect and the chain stops at the local level.”

Collier County is asking for federal dollars in fiscal 2012 for nine projects, seven of which are continuing initiatives. The county has said the Everglades Boulevard interchange, which comes with a $4 million request for federal funding, is the most important project in the coming fiscal year.

The project had $1 million earmarked in a fiscal 2011 Senate transportation bill, but Wight in a Jan. 11 memo said the earmark was in jeopardy after Congress failed to pass an appropriations bill.

“I think you probably read, and are probably well aware, of the earmark situation,” [county official Debbie] Wight said. “Our lobbyist has continued to emphasize that even though that is the current political climate … there’s a variety of other avenues to pursue funding for our projects.”

But Seana Segrue, a professor of political science at Ave Maria University, said there are only a limited number of areas in which the federal government has committed to offering grants.

“The freeze on earmarks is something that is a reflection of concerns of the debt and the desire to keep government spending under control,” she said. “Earmarks are discretionary, and it’s one of the areas you can have some cuts in tough times.”