The word “earmark” is generally considered a dirty seven-letter word synonymous with frivolous spending and bribery, conjuring up the “Bridge to Nowhere” and the Randy “Duke” Cunninghan bribery scandal—pork barrel spending at its worst. The deaths of veteran lawmakers who were top players in the inside appropriations game—Ted Kennedy (MA), Robert Byrd (WV), Ted Stevens (AK), and John Murtha (PA)—helped weaken the defense of earmarks, which are now on mortatorium.**
But it’s not frivolous spending if your community benefits from the spending, some have argued. Earmarks once provided many small cities with the necessary funding for key projects. As Dr. Susan Tolchin, professor of public policy at George Mason University, has argued, "What's wrong with an earmark if the project is worthy?" ("What's So Bad About Earmarks?") Dr. Karen Kunz, professor of public administration at West Virginia University, is quoted in The New York Times as saying, “[M]ost earmark funding was for local infrastructure or social services.” If you're a city administrator who once relied on earmarks for such worthwhile infrastructure projects, chances are you’ve struggled over the past couple of years to match the funding that earmarks once provided.
The purpose of this blog post is not to wax polemic about earmarks but to open up dialogue about what small cities that once relied on earmarks have been doing to "bring home the bacon" now that the pork barrel spending is banned. After reading a number of sources, I’ll make a conjecture. Tell me if you agree.
The solution to replacing earmarks seems to revolve around the Three P’s:
- Pen... highly competitive grant proposals. The competition for grants is fiercer now that budgets are tighter across the board and earmarks are no longer in play. Thus, the weight on evaluation criteria is even heavier. Bring in peer reviewers (yah, that’s our plug) to ensure that all red flags are caught before the funding agency sees them.
- Petition… your legislators. Lobbying might also be a controversial bag, but it is protected by the right to petition in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Many local governments have turned to firms to assist in this process.
- Partner… with other organizations. From community groups to nonprofits to public-private partnerships, we can weather the economic storms by shaking hands and pooling resources.
Now to the city administators: How has your city sought funding in the post-earmark era? Have you followed the Three P’s outlined above or do you have another methodology? Tell us your issues, concerns, stories. We especially want to hear from the small cities who once relied on earmarks.
**UPDATE: This article from Politico from May 1, 2012, discusses the tension between the conservative party line that brought GOP freshmen to office and the pressure to bring federal goods to their consituencies.
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