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Hoffman: Idaho earmarks don't help spending bill

Hoffman: Idaho earmarks don't help spending bill

Wayne Hoffman
March 8, 2009
Wayne Hoffman
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March 8, 2009

Boise's Discovery Center of Idaho has this neat little exhibit where little kids can go and pretend to be little shoppers. The toddlers and other wee ones load their miniature shopping carts and make oodles and oodles of make-believe purchases without having to worry about what they were buying or how they were going to pay for it. Hey, that sounds like Congress. I guess that explains why Congress voted to spend $285,000 on exhibits and outreach for the Discovery Center. It's part of a larger earmark-laden spending package that the Senate almost completed legislative action on with a series of votes last week.

The Discovery Center is a great place. My wife and I like to take the kids there whenever we can. We get to see some pretty marvelous exhibits, but I don't remember a single one that falls under the purview of the federal government, unless you count the Turbulent Orb (spin the globe and watch the turbulence within!). That's the real problem with the earmarking done by Congress. The wasteful spending that comes via earmarks is awful, but the rapid and willing encroachment of the federal government upon our daily lives - by way of earmarks - is hideous.

The spending bill contains 65 earmarks specific to Idaho totaling more than $69 million. Ten more earmarks totaling $5.6 million pertain to Idaho and one or more of our neighboring states. The earmarks are holdovers from last year's appropriations process, so members of the 2008 all-Republican congressional delegation, Reps. Mike Simpson and Bill Sali (whom I worked for) and Sens. Larry Craig and Mike Crapo, have their names on the Idaho earmarks. Craig served on the Senate's Appropriations Committee. Simpson still serves on the House's.

Not all of the earmarks are objectionable. The $2.2 million slated for interstate highway improvements, sponsored by all four congressional members, is probably justified because it is part of the federal highway system. (Some might even argue that one.) But what's the reason for making taxpayers in Custer County, Okla., contribute toward the $285,000 in federal money that will be used to buy a middle school building in Custer County, Idaho?

Simpson and Crapo sponsored the Discovery Center earmark. Idaho is not the only state with an earmark for museums or hands-on science centers. There are two dozen states including Idaho that are all poised to split some $35 million in taxpayer funding. That doesn't help ease my mind regarding these earmarks. I very much support the Discovery Center of Idaho, but I don't support the Bruce Museum, of Greenwich, Conn. (recipient of a $900,000 earmark), and I would hazard a guess that Greenwich residents probably wouldn't volunteer to send their money to Boise, Idaho.

I would also presume that the $150,000 Simpson secured for Rexburg's 92-year-old Westwood Theater isn't high on anyone's priority list unless you happen to live in Rexburg. The city's leadership thought it important enough to spend $133,000 to buy the theater four years ago. Why is it now a federal issue?

And the folks who live in the Western Elmore County Recreation District are grateful to Crapo for the $285,000 earmark that will be used for a new community center, but I'm at a loss as to what national objective is met through Washington, D.C.'s financial support.

The problem is, where funding for a new community center in Mountain Home might make sense to some Idahoans, over in Mission Hills, Calif., Congressman Howard Berman probably thinks that his earmark of $200,000 for tattoo removals equally makes sense, even though it's hard for us to fathom why American taxpayers should pay to help people erase their tats.

Simpson voted against this bulky spending bill, as did freshman Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick.

The bill contains an estimated 8,500 earmarks totaling $7.7 billion. And at some point very soon, we'll need to pay higher taxes to subside this unsustainable level of spending. But, hey, at least we'll have new exhibits at the Discovery Center and tattoo-less arms in Southern California. Somehow it doesn't seem like a fair trade.

Earmarks in appropriations bills are emblematic of the shop-'til-you-drop mentality in Washington, D.C., We cry in outrage over Bridges to Nowhere, but I'd argue that this bill is sort of a Bridge to Everywhere, and that's not much better.

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