Earmark ban plans create uncertainty

Published 6:00 am Friday, January 5, 2007

With the swing of power from the right to the left in Washingtonnow in effect, local officials are wondering, “How deep will therepercussions be?”

City and county leaders are hoping that upcoming visits toWashington will still prove fruitful in spite of the Democraticagenda to reduce earmarks that – despite misuse on higher levels -can prove important in small community development.

“It will impact every state in the country,” said Chancery ClerkTillmon Bishop. “Obviously it’s been abused, but sometimes you haveto. In our case, the earmarks have been a viable way of gettingfunded.”

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Democratic plans to use their newfound power to strip about10,000 earmarks from pending legislation have become top priorityin the new year. They also plan to ban earmarking until new reformrules are in place.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s original anti-earmark legislationspawned 50 or so more specific proposals, including Sen. TrentLott’s Transparency and Accountability Act of 2006. That bill,among other things, would cut down on improper campaign andfundraising spending.

Locally, however, earmarks have often been used to secureadditional funds for a variety of projects.

Both the city and the county leadership have planned trips toWashington in upcoming months to meet with the state’s federallawmakers. Local officials make similar trips once or twice ayear.

While the trips have been successful in the past, it is notclear what the difference will be under the Democraticmajority.

“We don’t know. I just know what I hear – just that the earmarkswill be cut back tremendously. And if that’s the case, then thatwill have some bearing on not just Brookhaven but on allcommunities,” said Mayor Bob Massengill. “We won’t know for a whilewhat the difference will be with the Democratic majority. But I doknow that unless we go and make our needs known, we’ll be one ofthe few communities that don’t go.”

Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., is still the ranking member of theSenate Appropriations Committee, although he has relinquished hisspot as chairman to Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W. Va.,. Local lawmakershope the positive rapport between the two holds up.

“Senator Cochran and Senator Byrd have a good relationship,”said Bishop. “As far as our ability to get funding on legitimateprojects, it should not be affected too much, although there is adifference between being a ranking member and chairman.”

Massengill was also cautiously optimistic.

“I don’t think Mississippi is going to go lacking, but I don’tknow if things will be quite as generous as they’ve been in thepast,” said Massengill.

In the meantime, tentative trips are planned at the end ofFebruary and sometime in April. Local officials feel it isimportant to spend time with the state’s congressional members andtheir staff members in order to secure good will and recognitionfor Brookhaven and Lincoln County.

“We won’t come back with a check, but we’ll have a better chanceof getting money in the future by making our requests known than bynever going, so that’s why we go,” said Massengill. “I’m pleasedwith the funds we’ve gotten in the past. Our congressionaldelegations have taken care of steering us in the rightdirection.”

Bishop agreed.

“You have to have something in the hopper all the time becausethese things go so slow, whether it’s a loan or a grant orwhatever,” said Bishop. “The ones that don’t go and don’t ask don’tget it.”