Earmarks, Palin and the Bridge to Nowhere

Firstly, what are congressional earmarks? per Wikipedia:
Provisions associated with legislation (appropriations or general legislation) that specify certain congressional spending priorities or in revenue bills that apply to a very limited number of individuals or entities. Earmarks may appear in either the legislative text or report language (committee reports accompanying reported bills and joint explanatory statement accompanying a conference report).

And so what is wrong with earmarks? What is wrong is that these federal funds are not critically reviewed for merit or needs, thus potentially wasteful. However, I am skeptical that it is even practical for Congress to review, discuss, and judge each and every earmark for merit or needs. Congress barely has any meaningful debates even on more important issues! If not Congress itself, should some lesser government officials decide on the earmarks? Hell no, because we all know bureaucrats have even less accountability and responsibility to decide this. That just is not and should not be for bureaucrats to decide.

So how do we limit the potential abuse and waste with earmarks? Firstly, they should be listed with the legislator requesting them. Secondly, that all federal earmarks be matched dollar for dollar with State/Local funds. Thirdly, that State/Local funds be spent before federal funds can be spent. Given that State/Local funds have to be spent, I would expect only earmark projects with local needs and support would be funded. No, not a perfect system, but it does place accountability at both the Congressional and the State/Local level. In the end, it will be up to elected leaders to act with good judgment and responsibility when it comes to spending money.

What is Gov. Palin's take on earmarks?
I am not among those who have said "earmarks are nothing more than pork projects being shoveled home by an overeager congressional delegation." I recognize that Congress, which exercises the power of the purse, has the constitutional responsibility to put its mark on the federal budget, including adding funds that the president has not proposed.

Accordingly, my administration has recommended funding for specific projects and programs when there is an important federal purpose and strong citizen support.

This year, we have requested 31 earmarks, down from 54 in 2007. Of these, 27 involve continuing or previous appropriations and four are new requests. The total dollar amount of these requests has been reduced from approximately $550 million in the previous year to just less than $200 million.

I believe this represents a responsible approach to the changing situation in Congress. Some misinterpret this as criticism of our congressional delegation.

In fact, it responds to messages from the Congressional delegation and the Bush administration. They have told us that the number of earmarks in the federal budget will be reduced and that there must be a strong federal purpose underlying each request.

We have also heard that, wherever possible, earmark requests must be accompanied by a state or local match. So, there are state budget consequences that must be considered as well when we ask for federal help.

There is no inconsistency or hypocrisy between my previous statements concerning earmarks and the recommendations my administration made to the delegation on Feb. 15. Specifically, I said earlier that the state would submit no more than 12 new requests, excluding earmarks for ongoing projects and the Alaska National Guard. Our recommendations are consistent with my previous comments and recognize the new budgetary realities in D.C.

Further, I applaud the delegation's decision to post all earmark requests. Posting, along with other reforms, will help insure the open and transparent public process that good government demands.

Regarding your comments concerning earmarks requested by local governments and other Alaska entities, I have never sought to impose my views on their activities. In fact, my D.C. office meets with dozens of local governments and others requesting earmarks and this interaction has always been cooperative and cordial.

Each entity must interpret the new realities in D.C. for itself. The final decisions about which earmark requests to pursue are made by the congressional delegation as our representatives in Congress.

My role at the federal level is simply to submit the most well-conceived earmark requests we can. Of course, since the congressional delegation has told us that they expect state or local matches, requests submitted by others may have implications for the Alaska Legislature as well.

As I have said previously, we can either respond to the changing circumstances in Congress or stick our heads in the sand. For better or worse, earmarks, which represent only about 1 percent of the federal budget, have become a symbol for budgetary discussions in general.

Unfortunately, Alaska has been featured prominently in the debate about reform. By recognizing the necessity for change, we can enhance the state's credibility in the appropriations process and in other areas of federal policy.

One of my goals as governor is making Alaska as self-sufficient as possible. Among other things, that means the ability to develop our natural resources in a responsible manner.

However, I am also mindful of the role that the federal government plays in our state. The federal budget, in its various manifestations, is incredibly important to us, and congressional earmarks are one aspect of this relationship.

I think her take is quite practical and quite reasonable. Here is a statement regarding one earmark in particular that has caused semi-uproar in the news.
Palin: “I told Congress `Thanks but no thanks on that bridge to nowhere'"

This has been challenged in the MSM that she "lied," that she was for the bridge before she was against it.

However, lets hear it from Senator Stevens who signed onto the bridge earmark (Rep Don Young plugged the earmark itself.)
Stevens, who once threatened to resign his Senate seat in 2005 if $223 million for the bridge project was defeated, told reporters today that Palin was never a supporter of the project, which has quickly become a bone of contention in defining the GOP vice-presidential nominee's self proclaimed image as a maverick reformer who took on "the good ol' boys network" of Alaska Republicans.

"I don't remember her ever campaigning for it. As a matter of fact, she was very critical of it at the time. And she took the money and did not use it for the bridge, so you're wrong, as far as I'm concerned," Stevens said today.

And here is from Democrat's page attacking Sen. Stevens earmarking:
Alaska’s delegation caused a national uproar for earmarking $452 million for two expensive bridges near Ketchikan and Anchorage; the amount appropriated would cover only part of the costs. Gov. Palin recently cancelled the Gravina Island Bridge ['Bridge to Nowhere'] near Ketchikan that would have connected the Alaska mainland with Gravina Island (population: 50). The other bridge, named Don Young’s Way and also known as the Knik Arm Bridge, is a proposed two-mile span that would cross Cook Inlet’s Knik Arm and connect Anchorage with undeveloped land in the Mat-Su Borough. Ted’s current chief of staff and former top aides are among those who own land that would benefit from construction of the bridge.

And here is a republication of the Anchorage Daily News from February 8, 2008
Let's count how many things Gov. Sarah Palin's predecessor did that she's undone.

It's quite a list.

The state-owned jet: Sold.

The proposed Gravina Island "bridge to nowhere" and a pioneer road to Juneau: Won't be funded.

And here is the Anchorage Daily News again in March 12, 2008
Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens is aggravated about what he sees as Gov. Sarah Palin's antagonism toward the earmarks he uses to steer federal money to the state."The fact the state has seen fit to raise the issue of earmarks and the way they handled the bridge money has led to a lot of controversy back here and comment back here about the Alaska delegation and why they seek things the state doesn't want," Stevens said in a recent telephone interview from Washington, D.C.


Palin ruffled feathers when she announced - without giving the delegation advance notice - that the state was killing the Ketchikan bridge to Gravina Island, site of the airport and a few dozen residents.

Palin's office said a state transportation official had earlier told Stevens the project was too expensive. Palin has said the federal funding was short and Congress clearly wasn't going to pay for the rest of such a controversial bridge.

Palin also declared last year that her administration was going to cut back its own earmark requests submitted to the delegation. Her budget director, Karen Rehfeld, wrote, "to enhance the state's credibility," state requests should only be for the most compelling needs.

The state requested earmarks for 31 projects worth just under $200 million this year. Rehfeld said five of them are new and four have been funded intermittently in the past. She said it's down from last year's request of 54 projects for around $550 million.

Thus it seems to me Gov. Palin was completely honest when she declared
“I told Congress `Thanks but no thanks on that bridge to nowhere'"

See also Powerline Blog

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