Earmark, Smearmark

One of the main reasons why I have always supported Sarah Palin is her tough stance when it comes to earmark spending.  It is irrefutable that she has drastically cut such spending while Governor of Alaska.  McCain has never requested a single earmark as Senator, while Sens. Obama and Biden have requested over one billion dollars worth (link thanks to HotAir commenter Chakra Hammer.)

Alaska is a unique state.

According to an October 1998 report by the United States Bureau of Land Management, approximately 65% of Alaska is owned and managed by the U.S. federal government as public lands, including a multitude of national forestsnational parks, and national wildlife refuges. Of these, the Bureau of Land Management manages 87 million acres (350,000 km²), or 23.8% of the state. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

Of the remaining land area, the State of Alaska owns 24.5%; another 10% is managed by 13 regional and dozens of local Native corporations created under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Various private interests own the remaining land, totaling less than 1%

Federal spending on Alaska is highest because the federal government owns 381,160 square miles of Alaska, which is appx. 2/3 of the state.  That is an area larger than the state of Texas.  Why is this important?  Check out this comment by Spiritof1776 at Hot Air:

I hope the McCain campaign is smart enough to define this, but I’m not very hopeful. It really isn’t complicated, and she can make the case better then him but I’m sure defense it not what they want her doing.

Alaska is a state where the (vast, I believe) majority of the land is federally owned. Combined with the fact that Alaska is prohibited by the federal government to develop it’s natural resources, it is a state that is necessarily more dependent on federal dollars.

That is one of the most powerful messages that Palin was emphasizing previous to her addition on the ticket: namely that Alaska should be free to develop it’s resources so it could be more self-sufficient and get off the federal teat. That is a message that everyone can understand. But I think the McCain camp is more interested in her as a reformist and so I suspect that message is going to get lost if she doesn’t preach it herself.

Palin as just an anti-corruption reformer minimizes the scope of her vision. She really is more far-seeing then that.

Now, read this comment by cthulhu on the same thread:

It might be helpful also to stress the distinction between Federal funds and earmarks. Normally, the Feds appropriate funds towards a program, and the operators of that program decide how the funds are spent — e.g. the Air Force gets funding for 100 new jets….and they put it out to bid.

An earmark is when a legislator interferes with the management of a program. For example, if the appropriation said, “Get 100 new jets. From Boeing. For $137.2M each.”

Alaska could have $453M of program funds without a single earmark. It’s not like the Feds have no interests in the state — they own 2/3 of it directly.

But when legislators earmark funds for specific spending, rather than for programs, it raises the question of whether they want the program to succeed or whether they want the directed spending to succeed.

How does this all tie back to Palin?  Check out another comment from Spiritof1776:

She said “The abuse of earmarks, it’s un-American, it’s undemocratic, and it’s not going to be accepted in a McCain-Palin administration. Earmark abuse will stop.”

ABC interpreted that to be: In an interview with ABC News on Friday, Gov. Palin herself suggested she no longer seeks earmarks for her state. But that is NOT what she said. She said abuse will stop.

And here we reach the essence of the argument.  Gov. Palin has been a fierce opponent of profligate earmark spending, especially when it has been used for the wrong reasons.  The difference between earmarks and pork-barrel spending is the intention.  Earmarks are mere appropriations, while pork-barrel spending is appropriations done for favors, votes, or other questionable means.  It is obvious that the type of spending that Gov. Palin has slashed and seeks to slash in Washington is pork-barrel spending.  She and McCain have also argued for more transparency when it comes to government spending of all kinds, and, as Governor, she initiated the Alaska State Division of Finance Checkbook Online, which allows everyone to see every project over $1000 that the state has spent money on.  Now, to be fair, both McCain and Obama co-sponsored the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, which created a national database of federal spending, found at www.usaspending.gov and www.federalspending.gov.  Curiously enough, on Obama’s Senate website, there is nothing about McCain in relation to the bill, even though the link that he provides links you to a Library of Congress page which states that Obama and McCain sponsored the bill on the same day, 4/6/2006.  Another interesting fact: despite the fact that the bill passed unanimously, two senators placed “secret holds” on the bill: Senator Ted Stevens (longest-serving Republican) and Senator Robert Byrd (longest-serving Democrat).  Looks like they need some turnover in the Senate, and not the apple kind.

The administration of federal money to the states is usually done for federal projects, i.e, roads, highways, infrastructure, land maintenance.  This leads me to:

“The Bridge To Nowhere”

A follow-up comment from cthulhu at Hot Air:

Oh, yeah — I forgot — and that distinction between Federal funds and earmarks is exactly what happened with the Bridge to Nowhere.

There was a bill regarding Federal funding of highways — “spend $XXX on highways”. So far, so good. And highway projects are typically some percentage Federal and some percentage State. But Stevens had put in an earmark saying, “spend $XXX on highways, including $400M on the Bridge to Nowhere”.

Palin responded by saying, “we’ll spend anything the Feds want to send us for the purpose of building and maintaining useful highways, but the cost/benefit on that bridge is embarrassing — not a dime of State money will go toward that project.”

That’s why all the news at the time — before she was a nominee for vice-president — said that she’d killed the Bridge to Nowhere. Without the State money, it would have to be 100% Federal…and the amount earmarked wasn’t enough to pay for the whole thing.

That mirrors what Palin said when she effectively killed the bridge project:

Ketchikan desires a better way to reach the airport, but the $398 million bridge is not the answer. Despite the work of our congressional delegation, we are about $329 million short of full funding for the bridge project, and it’s clear that Congress has little interest in spending any more money on a bridge between Ketchikan and Gravina Island. Much of the public’s attitude toward Alaska bridges is based on inaccurate portrayals of the projects here. But we need to focus on what we can do, rather than fight over what has happened.

Therefore, her comment from her speech at the RNC was correct:

“I told Congress, thanks but no thanks on that bridge to nowhere”

Some have tried to smear her on the fact that the state kept part of the money allocated for the bridge, however, in a state that is 65%+ federally-owned-and-managed…

Isn’t that the essence of fiscal conservatism?  The Federal Government is obviously too inept to use the money themselves, so give it back to the states.  Palin is right on this issue.  The states are more apt and able to manage that money, and put it to use where it belongs.

P.S. Needless to say, that is one of the best Hot Air comment posts of the year.  It does everything comments should do: inform, entertain, and start debate.

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2 Responses to “Earmark, Smearmark”

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