Passage late last week of the omnibus appropriations bill funding much of the federal government for the rest of the 2009 fiscal cycle affirmed the much-debated but unquestionably helpful right of Congress to earmark appropriations for specific projects.
Mississippi gained millions of dollars in the omnibus bill because the congressional delegation – representatives and senators – continued the historic practice of designating specific approved funds for projects in our state.
Most of the designated spending for Mississippi’s universities, infrastructure, agencies and programs would have been sent to some other state had our delegation not stood up for our interests.
Some principled opponents of earmarks like Arizona Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate, want earmarks abolished. Our two equally conservative GOP senators, Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, vigorously disagree with McCain, as do many others in both parties in the House and Senate. McCain’s amendment to strike all earmarks from the omnibus bill was defeated by a 63-32 bipartisan vote.
Any practice can be abused, including even carefully monitored competitive contracts awarded by the government to private-sector businesses.
The principle on which earmarks rest is constitutional.
As Sen. Cochran explains, “The Constitution instructs Congress to determine how federal dollars are spent. Should the Congress forego this constitutionally outlined duty, federal agencies would be given unchecked authority to make spending decisions affecting areas of the country about which they have little knowledge. Analyses of how the executive branch spends discretionary federal dollars when left to its own devices show that rural states like Mississippi, states that often have a great deal of need, are largely ignored. This is why our founding fathers gave Congress the explicit power to direct spending: so that those who are elected by the people, not bureaucrats, decide how funds are spent.”
Mississippi’s only clout in the federal appropriations process is in the skill – and seniority – of its delegation. Our six-member delegation cannot compete with the numbers held by states like California, Texas and Florida.
Earmarks, combined with influence, provide a fighting chance of fairly sharing in the commonwealth.
Consider the facts of how earmarks have helped Mississippi:
n One of the earmarks in this year’s omnibus bill is $2.8 million for work on Highway 9 near the Toyota plant at Blue Springs. Multiply that single earmark hundreds of times over decades and look at our state’s four-lane highway system. It could not have been built as fast, perhaps not at all, without the special designations that provided key funds. U.S. 78 – soon to become Interstate 22 – has been helped by earmarks. Portions of I-22 in Alabama are the direct result of influence from Sen. Richard Shelby, a Republican who is the ranking Transportation subcommittee member for Appropriations. The new interstate will become a four-lane link from Memphis to Birmingham, connecting with I-20 to Atlanta.
n Consider our state’s universities: technology parks, research facilities, research programs, nationally designated academic centers, infrastructure improvements leading to the campuses and on the campuses. Mississippi State and Ole Miss rank first and second, respectively, in earmarked funding among all American universities. It’s money Mississippi didn’t have for programs that would have been routed elsewhere.
n Consider Hurricane Katrina recovery. The billions of dollars in earmarks placed on the major appropriations bills after the devastating 2005 hurricane remain a force in helping Mississippi – and Louisiana – rebuild their economies and quality of life.
It’s not a matter of budget reduction. The budget wasn’t going to be cut. The issue is who gets it and where federal investment is applied. We support our delegation in what it designates for our state.