Park and recreation agencies, like many other local government agencies, have benefitted from federal earmarks. For instance, in 2005, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) obtained a $38 million federal earmark for Louis Metro Parks, and in 2009, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) secured a $3.8 million federal earmark for the specified purpose of “preservation and redevelopment of public park and related business activities” in Corktown, Michigan. The federal earmark ban that took effect two years ago has made it difficult local governments to fund many local projects, such as park and recreation projects.
However, discussions on the Hill, now have many wondering whether earmarks are truly dead.
The whispers began months ago as Congress struggled with its self-imposed two-year moratorium on earmarks. Important legislation has stalled and gridlock seems to have become the new norm on Capitol Hill as legislators are unable to use earmarks as bargaining chips and partisan politics are at an all-time high.
Earlier this year, after having struggled through the first year of the earmark ban, a growing number of Republicans began discussing the possibility of reconsidering the ban after the 2012 elections. The argument for bringing back earmarks ranged from ceding control of all spending to the Obama administration, to not having the ability to help fund worthy projects back home.
These arguments were not new and they were not being made by Republicans alone. In January of 2011, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) had this to say after President Obama’s state of the union speech when the President announced he would veto bills that included earmarks: “The money is going to be spent anyway,” said Reid. “The difference is the White House is going to be directed [sic] where it’s spent, not us. That’s our obligation. This does not save any money.” Added a visibly frustrated Reid, "I have a constitutional obligation to do congressionally-directed spending. I know much more what's needed in Elko, Nevada . . . than some bureaucrat does back here."
A report from the Heritage Foundation seems to back up the Majority Leader’s January 2011 claim that the Administration was the one now doing the earmarking. The report says that the Obama administration directed federal spending to Democrats to help get them to vote for controversial bills such as cap and trade, financial regulation reform and Obamacare.
Fox News reported: "Numbers from the non-partisan Congressional Research Service show that the value of administration earmarks under President Obama increased by a 126 percent in his first two years in office and the actual number of administrative earmarks increased by 54 percent. Those are dramatic increases that are 11 times more than Congress itself increased earmarks, which the White House has not explained. It also does not square with statements the President is against earmarks, which he and his administration appear to have used to great effect and with increasing frequency."
Given the increased partisan politics and legislative deadlock, one has to wonder whether there is merit to bringing back earmarks or whether legislators should simply find another way to work out differences. The Ferguson Group and NRPA will continue to follow this issue as it unfolds.
Written by: Trent Lehman, Managing Partner with The Ferguson Group and Stacey L. Pine, NRPA’s Vice President of Government Affairs