Freedom – April 15, 2009 – Think you know federal pork barrel spending when you see it? According to a new book by a national taxpayer organization, a $188,000 federal appropriation last year to control invasive milfoil through the Lake Host program is an example of wasteful government spending.
The book is the 2009 Congressional Pig Book, published by Citizens Against Government Waste, a national watchdog organization boasting a million members and a 19-year track record of exposing pork barrel spending through earmarking, the process by which legislators fund local projects by inserting them into unrelated spending bills.
In addition to federal funding for the New Hampshire Lake Host program, the book cites as wasteful a $94,000 bipartisan earmark to support DES’ Volunteer Lake Assessment Program, which has trained more than 500 volunteers to sample water quality and identify sources of pollution on 153 state lakes.
Although earmarks comprise a tiny fraction of federal spending, their importance as a political issue was elevated last year when the term “bridge to nowhere” became part of the lexicon of the presidential campaign.
That the earmarking process has been abused is well-known, and egregious examples abound. Last month, for example, the New York Times cited a Louisiana legislator who awarded her brother’s non-profit organization a $190,000 earmark for a building project that had already been canceled.
But are all earmarks bad? Supporters of the process say most earmarks support worthy local projects that can’t possibly all be debated as part of the federal legislative process. They argue that the administration and Congress should work to eliminate the most blatant abuses of the process without eliminating the process itself.
Locally, the Lake Host program, managed by the New Hampshire Lakes Association, and DES’ Volunteer Lake Assessment Program have been recognized as cost-effective efforts with a demonstrated track record of success, including preventing additional lakes from being infested with invasive weeds and pinpointing non-point source pollution.
Both programs operate on Ossipee Lake, and officials say neither could likely survive solely on local funds. In fact, the New Hampshire Lakes Association has already advised area Lake Host program sponsors, including Ossipee Conservation Commission, that funding will be reduced this year.
Other New Hampshire earmarks cited in the book as examples of wasteful federal spending include funds for education programs, dam operations and maintenance, conservation of critical river habitats and law enforcement training and equipment. Close by, a $490,000 earmark funded the Chocorua Village Safety Improvement Project.
In all, the 2009 Congressional Pig Book lists 72 earmarks by New Hampshire legislators for a total of $42,159,826 out of a national total of $19.6 billion.
Citizens Against Government Waste defines a pork barrel project as “a line-item in an appropriations bill that designates tax dollars for a specific purpose in circumvention of established budgetary procedures.”
To qualify as pork, a project must meet one of seven criteria: that it was requested by only one chamber of Congress; that it was not specifically authorized; that it was not competitively awarded; that it was not requested by the President; that it greatly exceeds the President’s budget request or the previous year’s funding; that it was not the subject of congressional hearings; or that it serves only a local or special interest.