Thomas Dykes • staff writer

Whenever the word ‘earmark’ is mentioned in today’s political environment, it is always in a negative fashion. Earmarks are supposed to be wasteful, unnecessary payments made at the behest of an obscure group, presumably to support a congressperson’s re-election campaign. While these earmarks do exist, suggesting that all earmarks are organized in this way paints an incomplete, unfair picture.
Earmarks are made for causes too small to be addressed in their own spending bill, but that does not mean that earmarks are not important. Oftentimes earmarks are made for projects that are worthwhile, but too small to be addressed on the federal level. Local and state projects that are beyond the budgets of local and state governments are often worthy projects that are ignored due to lack of funds; earmarks are a way to fund those projects using a negligible amount of the federal budget. At their best, earmarks address the concerns of smaller groups with worthy projects that would have otherwise been ignored.
These types of projects will become more important as state and local finances deteriorate. While the federal government is able to borrow sufficiently to fund social security and the military, state governments will become less capable of covering their liabilities as property prices stagnate. Cash strapped states will be forced to forgo useful, necessary projects in order to fund the basics like employee salaries. Federal ‘earmark’ spending will then become a crucial way to address the interests of states and localities fund projects beyond their reach.
The view on earmarks presented above depends on a specific view on government spending. Government spending is not inherently wasteful or bad. It is necessary, important, and often results in work being done in a more efficient and effective way than would have occurred under private control. In order for future government spending to fund anything other than Social Security and the Military, earmark spending is necessary. In sum, spending that is small in magnitude and cause is not necessary less important or relevant than more expensive causes or interests. Sometimes, it is even more so.

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