Friday, June 19, 2009

State budget deal bought with earmarks - JSOnline

State budget deal bought with earmarks - JSOnline

"Earmarks" have become a favorite topic of attack in DC and perhaps at home too. Why is that? Consider first why earmarks are so important to individual legislators. Consider second why legislators think attacking earmarks is good politics in light of your first consideration.


  1. From my experience, earmarks are important because they can provide the constituents in the district with services they desire. Things they want can be achieved through earmarks. Unfortunately, not everyone will always agree with these earmarks and will see them as wasted money. As pointed out in the article, the earmarks add up to a tiny fraction of the actual budget, but the fact that "wasting" money while we have a deficit angers many. This is why I think many legislators are attacking earmarks...

    Luke D

  2. I think that earmarks are important to individual legislators, because they are a physical means of demonstrating to the constituent base that they care about their district. There is a great number of constituents that are not following their legislators so closely as to know exactly what is on every bill that they have voted for, or which campaign promises are being followed through on. The earmarks are especially important for gaining the votes of these constituents for re-election, that are not closely following the legislation, but see only these "superficial" changes. In light of this, I believe that legislators think that attacking these earmarks is good politics, because if they can establish the motive of the politician as gaining votes for re-election, then perhaps the same constituents that are influenced by the use of earmarks will want to alienate themselves from such deceptive candidates. It more or less becomes the foundation for an ad hominem attack on that legislator.

  3. For years, "earmarks" have been a favorite topic of attack in both DC, as Professor Franklin noted, as well as at the state level. It is not hard to see why this is. Take my reaction to this article when I first read it: "Why are my tax dollars necessary to upgrade the Oshkosh Opera House?! Why are they not being used to upgrade the Grand Theatre in Wausau near my hometown? That, I may at least use at some point in my life." Clearly, because of diversified interests throughout the country and the state, earmarks are generally frowned upon in our political system. A person like myself from north-central Wisconsin sees no justification for my money to be used in the Fox Valley. Similarly, a person living in Oklahoma cannot see why so much money is being funneled to Wisconsin though the House Appropriations Committee, under the rule of Dave Obey, to upgrade or repair I-94 from Madison to Milwaukee. People in Wisconsin can obviously see why this is necessary - I-94 is one of the most heavily used highways in the state. Efficient roads means efficient business and growth. Clearly, this creates a conflict that is easy to attack at the state or national level.

    But it is also easy to justify. As Kingdon notes in his article Modes of Legislative Voting, the number one primary goal of a legislature is to satisfy his or her consituations. If I were an Oshkosh citizen, I would feel grateful or perhaps would be impressed with my representative's ability to bring $500,000 to help improve a historic landmark, while at the same time generating jobs and capital into the area with the project. If legislatures have an opportunity to bring money to their districts, they will always jump on it. They will work hard to accomplish that goal as well. My boss has tried for months to secure some stimulus money to continue a crucial highway project near the largest city in his district that he claims has always been taken by the Governor for other projects. If and when he does, I am sure he will publicize his accompishments thoroughly and his constituents will be grateful for the work he has done, whether it was accomplished by the use of earmarks or not. Representative Obey funnels large amount of funds into Wisconsin with his position on the Appropriations Committee and continues to be reelected by citizens in the 7th.

    And of course, attacking earmarks is politically advantageous too. It seems that those who have a reform agenda and plan to tackle pork are often regarded as watchdogs or someone who is looking out for the taxpayer by preventing unnecessary spending and keeping fees low. John McCain's resent presidential bid took pork spending to center stage as he attempted to win voters over with the idea that less wasteful spending would keep taxes low and improve the federal budget deficit - a sharp contrast to then-candidate Obama's calls for universal health care and other hefty programs. This may have been one of McCain's stronger platforms in the election and shows how highly-charged of an issue this can be.

    As professor Franklin noted in the Journal Sentinal article however, everyone wants a piece of the pie to keep their constitutants happy and their chair on the floor. While earmarks may be an easy thing to both create and attempt to reform, I believe they will play a large role in any budget. Whether one likes it or not, it seems that earmarks are here to stay.

  4. When adding earmarks, is what officials want always in everyone’s best interest? Is it the job of an official to "get what he can" and push to add earmarks that give constituents/officials what they want? Also, can some of these earmarks be deemed ploys for future re-election?

  5. Earmarks are blown entirely out of proportion. The people who focus on battling legislative "pork" are wasting their time, as these provisions make up less than 3% of most state budgets. "Pork" is vital to getting legislation passed. Call it logrolling, call it what you wish but the backbone of the democratic process is compromise and if that compromise involves renovating an opera house in Oshkosh, then so be it. That renovation is creating domestic jobs, and in these hard times who can argue with job creation?

    Legislators focus on ridiculing earmarks because sometimes earmarks sound ridiculous on the outset. 100 million dollars to algae research in Hawaii is an easy thing to attack if you are a Republican legislator from Idaho. If you go 2 steps deeper when looking at that algae research you may realize that not only are jobs being created but important innovations could be created by pumping a small amount of money into a bay area of Hawaii. This is a purely hypothetical situation, but it just goes to show that all of these earmark projects have legitimate uses if we look at what is actually happening within them.

    Jake V

  6. In my opinion, earmarks can be both harmful and helpful as legislators seek to fulfill the desires of their constituents. However, there is quite a lot of unnecessary allocated for certain projects that DO NOT contribute to our country's/state's current crisis. The stimulus money is intended to stimulate the areas that are in DESPERATE need of financial assistance.

    It's kind of like winning a scholarship to go to college. If you use that money to go shopping -- yes, you are getting nice things with it but you are not using it for what it was intended for. To me, there are far too many homeless and families on the verge of losing their homes. I'm appalled the State of Wisconsin feels we are sitting so "pretty" that we can go and spend money on shooting ranges and opera houses. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against the projects itself -- it's just bad timing.

    I did see in the article that some of the money will go towards recycling bins. That project is a great move. Any expense that tackles another issue is always a plus!

    Ashley B.

  7. The sticky part about earmarks is that the word renders no conclusion as to whther or not funds arebeing used appropriately. The word is slang. What is the cost of an earmark? The disconsideration of a districts needs? Possibly the undermining of citizens rights and needs for tax breaks benefiting small interest groups? Earmarks have become a way of exucsing poorly explained funding.
    The bottom line is just as Porfessor Franklin said, "everyone wants a piece of the pie", and they'll eventually get it. It is also clean and fair to reiterate that both parties have been doing this for years. That being said, earmarks look to be mostly good ideas, but they have almost a manipulative way in coercing people into not seeing the big picture; in a sense, government has become materialistic in this.
    This does touch on the Kingdon article, where the top 51% can be gained by using the consensus model, looking to the environment for clues as to what is popular and vice versa. If the people are intrigued by material benefits, they will not see the big picture. Pie can be a dangerous food.


Comments are moderated. Spam will be rejected so don't bother.