It’s like they think they can print their own money. Oh wait, they can. (6 ridiculous budget earmarks)
So the senate passed part of the spending bill that will be a portion of next year’s federal budget the other day. This one amounted to $447 billion in spending for several Cabinet departments and other agencies for the 2010 budget year. And of course, it included several low publicized bills for crazy stuff all over the country. These little fill-ins are called earmarks, probably because calling them money-needed-by-elected-officials-to-repay-people-who-helped-them-get-elected would not be politically correct. Critics call them pork. Anyway, the pork (I guess I’m a critic) is slipped into budgets by various members of the senate and house. I assume there must by a “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” kind of thing going on, because there is no other reason for them to approve some of these ridiculous requests.
Some make sense, funding infrastructure and other areas of need. Some, not so much. This is especially apparent when the United States is setting new records in budget deficits. For instance, in the 2008 budget there was an allotment of $50,000 by House appropriator Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-Mich.) for tree replacement in River Rouge. According to the 2000 Census, River Rouge had a population of less than 10,000 people. No offense to the residents there, but does that seem like something we need to be spending a bunch of money on right now?
That earmark, however, is quite tame and cheap compared to some others that have made it through the federal budget process. Remember the “Big Dig” from yesterday’s post? That started out as an earmark, and resulted in a $22 billion fiasco. In fact, many earmarks are not even known to those voting for the budgets. Back in 2007, the omnibus was 3,417 pages. How many officials do you think actually read it through? If you said more than zero, enjoy your vacation in the land of denial. Here are others that are some of the worst offenders in recent years.
You take it. No, you take it. (2002 for Navy patrol boat)
Three Washington state politicians got some language inserted into the 2002 budget that had the U.S. Navy buy a $4.5 million patrol boat from an Edmonds, WA shipbuilder. The problem was the Navy didn’t want it. They didn’t even know they were getting it until it was delivered to them. Unable to find a use for it, they gave it to the University of Washington. The school hasn’t been able to find a use for it either.
The politicians that got the boat ordered each received about $15,000 in campaign contributions from the shipbuilder, and the shipbuilder had received over $17 million in earmarked contracts over the previous few years. Interesting.
“And here is, well… nothing” (2008 for a walking tour)
There’s a town in Virginia called Boydton. It is one square mile in size and has about 500 residents. In 2008, Rep. Virgil Goode (R-Va) decided they need a walking tour of the “city”. To implement this, he slipped $98,000 into the budget to create the tour to develop tourism in the area.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I just booked myself a night there. I can’t wait to see a tavern built in 1790 and the Greek Revival Courthouse. By the way, Rep. Goode was later quoted as saying “federal budget spending is too much overall and Congress members should set an example by not spending too much.” Oops.
A monument to me (2008 for academic center)
Charles Rangel (D-NY) decided his name wasn’t on enough buildings. So he did what any other normal person would do: he put a $1.9 million earmark in the budget for an academic and public works center to be named after him.
Rangel caught the attention of fellow politicians with this one. He didn’t care, saying to other senators “I would have a problem if you did it, because I don’t think that you’ve been around long enough”. In fact, he has been accused of preserving a tax shelter for an oil drilling company whose chief executive pledged $1 million to the center. This executive had previously made generous donations to Rangel’s campaign. Again, interesting. Well, that’s been put on the back burner for him now, as he is dealing with his failure to report over $75,000 in rental income he received from some properties he owns.
The infamous “Bridge to Nowhere” (2006)
This is an earmark that garnered a lot of attention, as it should. The bill called for the $398 million Gravina Island bridge to replace a ferry that would connect the mainland to the Alaskan island with a bursting town of… 50 people. Yes, you read that right. I understand the need for the Golden Gate and Brooklyn Bridges, but not this one. In 2005, Congress received so much grief on this one that they removed it from legislation.
The story doesn’t end there. After winning the governor’s race, Sarah Palin said she would pledge to responsible spending. She then spent $25 million in government money to build the Gravina Island Highway that would connect to where the bridge would be. Now mind you, this was after the bridge idea was scrapped. So they built this highway that simply ends at the coastline.
Why would they spend that much on a useless road you ask? Because if they didn’t spend the money, they would have return the money to the federal government. It’s a perfectly good excuse to fund a useless project, right? I’m in the wrong industry.
It just needs a new coat of pain (2007 for suburban renewal)
Rep. Jerry Lewis obtained earmarks totalling over $2.5 million over several years to spruce up a Washington D.C. neighborhood. Wait, why would I put this in here? It seems like a nice thing to do. The citizens would certainly appreciate it.
Well, that’s the problem. You see, Lewis is a resident. So all this money has been spent making an already nice neighborhood nicer. And what was that doing to his property value at the time? Why, it was skyrocketing of course. Hmmmm.
Because every kid has one (2009 for wooden arrow companies)
You know that kid on your street that has the bow and arrow set? No? Neither do I. Well, the government apparently decided that more kids should be playing with dangerous things.
Not only that, they slipped this one into the federal stimulus bill that passed not too long ago. It calls for certain companies that make wooden arrows for children to receive tax breaks that will cost the government $2 million over the next 10 years. Whatever.
So remember folks, if you want something done, just donate to your local congress member. I’m going to ask mine to put in an earmark for $50 so I have beer money this weekend. No one will ever know.
For a full list of pork (and some kosher) earmarks by year, check out Citizens Against Government Waste.