Earmarks ban talk potentially troubling move

Published 7:00 pm Sunday, November 21, 2010

Whether one calls it a piece of the pie, a bite of the apple orsome other food-related euphemism, the ability of Mississippi andits communities to obtain federal funding earmarks for much-neededprojects has been a key part of this state’s sustenance.

That is why congressional talk of banning earmarks is a two-edgedsword for Mississippi. This is not offered as a defense ofearmarks, but the fact remains that a wide variety of state andlocal projects have been facilitated, at least in part, throughtheir use.

In Brookhaven and Lincoln County over the years, an industrialoverpass, various water and sewer improvement efforts and otherprojects have been aided through the allocation of federal funding,including earmarks. Without that money, local pursuit of thoseneeded projects would have been severely curtailed if notimpossible.

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What is vital to us may seem less important to others in anotherpart of the country, who themselves have projects we might considerless than necessary.

Riding a wave of anti-government spending, tea party and otherfiscal conservatives swept to newfound power during electionsearlier this month.

One of their first targets is earmarks. Cutting spending is andshould be the top priority, but cutting needs to be in the mosteffective places.

Congressionally directed earmarks make up only about one half of 1percent of the federal budget – still a significant amount ofmoney, but small in comparison. Curbing or outright banning theiruse, however, carries more of a symbolic solution to the spendingproblem.

Perhaps such a symbol is what the country needs, but the real”heavy-lifting” of cutting spending will come when lawmakers getdown to addressing entitlements, defense and other big-ticketcosts. And ferreting out and curbing waste in problematic areasshould be a high priority.

When it comes to ending earmarks, all must agree to play by thesame rules, meaning none for anyone. And that is the other side ofthe sword for us here in the Magnolia state.

In the meantime, we have to think, the value of earmarks remainstoo vital to poor states like Mississippi for them to be abandonedfor the sake of symbolism.