Earmark ban would cost state billions

TUPELO – Senators from Mississippi, the nation’s second highest earmark recipient after California, joined a growing congressional movement to temporarily ban the practice of funneling federal money to projects back home.
If it becomes law, the move could strip billions of dollars from the Magnolia State that historically have helped pave roads, fund research, erect buildings, and employ workers.
Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, R-Miss., who respectively rank No. 1 and No. 3 nationwide in securing earmarks, released statements Tuesday saying they support a two-year moratorium on them.
The ban has been pushed by Tea Party favorite Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. and supported by Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Republicans unanimously passed by voice vote the moratorium Tuesday night. However, it is non-binding, meaning lawmakers could still choose to allocate federal money to projects in their home states.
The vote mirrors similar action by House Republicans, who already banned all earmarks, and House Democrats, who restricted them for private contractors.
“Banning earmarks now is an important first step demonstrating that we are serious about the debt and runaway spending,” said Wicker, who voted for the ban during a Senate Republican caucus.
“While I have concerns about turning over more power to the administration and federal bureaucrats, I think it is important that Congress take a timeout and review the earmark process,” Wicker said. “I am committed to cutting spending and getting our fiscal house in order, and that means changing the way business is done in Washington.”
Thanks largely to Wicker and Cochran, Mississippi has received more than $2.1 billion in earmarks since this Congress first convened in 2008, making it second only to California’s $2.8 billion in overall spending.
Like Wicker, Cochran noted the ban would require Congress cede its federal expenditure decisions to the Obama administration and said he’s unconvinced in the prudence of that move.
“But an earmark moratorium is the will of the Republican Conference,” Cochran added. “If this is what it takes to get Congress focused on the real steps needed to get our fiscal house in order, then I will take the views of my Republican colleagues to heart. Restraining overall spending and eliminating waste in government will require our undivided attention.”
Cochran is the Senate’s top earmark recipient in Fiscal Year 2010, having secured more than $497 million for a variety of projects mostly benefiting Mississippi, according to the nonpartisan Taxpayers for Common Sense.
Wicker comes in third, with more than $368 million in earmarks. But most of Wicker’s earmark success comes from jointly sponsored appropriations, usually with Cochran. Alone, Wicker has drummed up about $2 million.
U.S. Rep. Travis Childers, D-Miss., earned $200,000 in earmarks by himself in FY10 but more than $93 million from jointly sponsored bills, according to LegiStorm, an online nonpartisan congressional tracker.
Earmarks have supported numerous projects statewide and in the 1st Congressional District, including several research or construction initiatives for Mississippi State University and the University of Mississippi.
MSU ranks No. 20 in the nation and Ole Miss No. 22 for institutions receiving the most money from congressional earmarks. MSU has received nearly $70 million since 2008.
“An end to congressionally directed funds would greatly hamper our efforts,” said MSU President Mark Keenum in an e-mail interview with the Daily Journal last week. “But we are now in a position to effectively compete for research funding in a wide variety of program areas. Congressionally directed funding also has helped level the playing field for smaller states such as Mississippi with regard to research, economic development and job creation. Mississippi would suffer if Congress’ ability to use its constitutional power of the purse is ceded entirely to the Executive branch.”
Ole Miss has received more than $66 million from earmarks, but that does not include the Medical Center in Jackson, which has received more than $26 million alone.
“The University of Mississippi strives to contribute significantly to the nation’s research agenda while also having a positive economic impact in Mississippi,” said Alice M. Clark, vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs. “UM submits requests for congressional support as well as competitive agency awards for projects whose outcomes will contribute to improving our state and nation. We look forward to continuing to work with the governor, the Mississippi delegation and the Obama administration as the new guidelines are implemented.”
Earmarks also have helped fund municipal improvements, highway infrastructure, defense programs, health studies, post-Hurricane Katrina rebuilding efforts and a host of other projects.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal