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Spending Plan for 2002 Laden With ‘Earmarks’

By Erik W. Robelen — January 30, 2002 6 min read

“Goth culture” in Blue Springs, Mo., may be in for some tough times.

Thanks to Rep. Sam Graves, a Republican who represents the Kansas City suburb, $273,000 out of the Department of Education’s fiscal 2002 budget will help the Blue Springs Outreach Unit take on a perceived problem for local youths.

“It is my hope that this funding will give the officers in the Youth Outreach Unit the tools they need to identify Goth culture leaders that are preying on our kids,” Rep. Graves said in a press release announcing the appropriation last month.

Elsewhere in the new spending measure for the federal department, $600,000 will bring the services of the American Airlines Travel Academy to some school districts in New Jersey, courtesy of Rep. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. The money is to be used for a school-to-work curriculum focused, not surprisingly, on careers in the travel and tourism industry.

And the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland will get $200,000 to expand its “Rockin’ the Schools” program because of a request from Democratic Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D- Md., whose yen for music education evidently crosses state lines.

Those items— admittedly, some of the most curious—are among hundreds of specific appropriations detailed in page after page of the conference-committee report accompanying the Education Department’s 2002 spending bill. They reflect a growing trend of congressional “earmarks” in the education budget and overall federal budget, a practice critics deride as pork-barrel spending.

More than 750 such earmarks, for a total of about $440 million, appear in the Education Department budget for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, according to the department. While that’s a relatively small piece of the department’s nearly $50 billion in discretionary funding, it would be enough, for example, to increase spending in the new Reading First program by almost 50 percent.

No grant formula divvied up the money based on need. Nor did the recipients enter any grant competition to show the quality of their programs. And Congress held no open debate about the merits of the programs and projects. But the checks will soon be on their way.

And that irks Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., one of the most outspoken critics of the practice.

“For all the good in this bill, I ask: How many other worthy programs are being shortchanged because of our parochial appetites?” he said last month as the spending bill for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education was up for a final vote. He estimated that the total amount of earmarks in the bill was nearly $1 billion.

Iowa Gets the Most

The pork nuggets come in all shapes and sizes.

Some sound very general, such as 12 grants of $30,000 each to Alabama districts for “technology enhancement.” Or the $1 million slated for “equipment” for Lake Metroparks, in Concord, Ohio.

There’s no contest for the biggest education earmark: Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, wins hands down with the $50 million he secured to expand the Iowa school construction demonstration program, which has become something of a regular in the earmark world. This will be the fourth straight year of funding for the initiative; it received a total of $37 million in its first three years. (“Repair Funds Jettisoned From Stimulus Package,” Nov. 21, 2001.)

And the program’s expansion came as Congress decided to scrap a national $1.2 billion school renovation program, which Sen. Harkin has long championed.

Mr. Harkin is in a good position to get earmarks, as he chairs the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Education Department’s budget. Overall, Iowa programs and projects will receive at least $67 million from the education part of the spending bill, about 15 percent of the total and far more than that allotted for any other state.

For a small state like Iowa, that’s a windfall. In fact, it’s more than the entire allocation for Iowa districts under Title I, the flagship federal program for disadvantaged students.

Other especially large earmarks include $20 million secured by Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the education appropriations subcommittee, for that state’s education agency to help low-performing districts slated for state takeover. The state had at least 72 earmarks, totaling about $35 million.

Lawmakers’ practice of securing money for pet projects back home has long been part of the political process in Washington.

“Pork-barrel earmarking knows no party or ideology,” said Marshall Wittmann, an expert on Congress in the Washington office of the Hudson Institute, an Indianapolis-based think tank.

Sen. Harkin and other legislators of both parties aren’t shy about earmarks, and often catalogue them in press releases.

“Senator Harkin has always supported the ability of members to have input into where money is being spent, ... especially within their states,” said Bill Burton, his spokesman. “They know the facilities, they know the programs, they know the folks who are running the programs much better than people at the federal level.”

Some education lobbyists say they don’t object to earmarking.

“The reality is, it is money that’s getting spent in schools and colleges,” said Joel Packer, a senior lobbyist for the National Education Association.

The process is largely controlled by four lawmakers: the chairmen and the ranking minority members of the House and Senate subcommittees that oversee Education Department appropriations.

“The way it works is the Big Four have to agree on the pot,” said one Appropriations Committee aide. Those members evenly divide that sum between the two chambers, with the majority party getting a larger share.

While this year’s sum for earmarks in the education budget is roughly the same as last year, according to Lindsey Kozberg, a spokeswoman for Secretary of Education Rod Paige, it is far more than just two or three years ago.

In any case, the department is no fan of the practice.

“Our main concern is making sure that we’re spending our dollars the right way, that programs are going to produce results, particularly for economically disadvantaged and minority students,” Ms. Kozberg said. “And we believe that earmarks in general are not the best way of doing that.”

But Jewell Patek, a spokesman for Rep. Graves, the Missouri Republican, argues that sometimes an earmark is the most effective way to guarantee money for a program that a member of Congress deems worthy.

“It was really a community need, and they really weren’t able to satisfactorily get money at the local level,” Mr. Patek said of the Blue Springs project to combat Goth culture. Some parents and law- enforcement officials are concerned that, beyond the dark fashions and music characteristic of that subculture, some “Goth” teenagers are drawn into potentially dangerous behavior.

The program is meant to help train police officers, and help schools and families with children involved in Goth culture, according to the announcement from Rep. Graves. Drug abuse and self-mutilation are among the troubling behaviors Goth culture fosters, Mr. Patek said.

He stressed that the effort will not be limited to Blue Springs. “I know this was a good project,” Mr. Patek said. “And it’s a finite amount of resources. ... We’re not talking about an ongoing federal commitment.”

A version of this article appeared in the January 30, 2002 edition of Education Week as Spending Plan for 2002 Laden With ‘Earmarks’

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