Politics

It’s Back! Earmark Spending Is Going Up, Again

(REUTERS/Andrew Winning)

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Members of Congress earmarked 10 times more taxpayer funds for pet projects in 2016 than they did before supposedly banning the pork barrel spending in 2011.

Congress slipped $5.1 billion in pet project spending into its fiscal year 2016 budget, up from $541 million in fiscal year 2010, according to Citizens Against Government Waste’s (CAGW) latest annual Congressional Pig Book.

The average cost-per-earmark to taxpayers is on the rise, too. It’s roughly 33 times higher in 2016 than in 2010. The 123 earmarks Congress created in 2016 cost an average of $36.6 million each, versus an average price tag of $1.1 million on the 482 earmarks in 2010.

CAGW called the one-year increase in earmark spending — a 21.4 percent jump from last year’s $4.2 billion price tag — “downright disturbing.”

“Unfortunately, the earmark moratorium has not only failed to eliminate earmarks, but also has rendered the process patently less transparent,” the report said. Earmarks are spending measures usually approved without a recorded vote that can benefit friends, family members or donors of the sponsoring congressman.

Members of Congress, many of whom deny earmarks are alive and well, no longer have to list their names alongside earmarks, and Congress no longer produces charts tracking pork barrel spending.

“The Pig Book is an annual reminder that earmarks are damaging to our system of government,” Curtis Kalin, spokesman for CAGW, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The secretive earmark process empowers politicians at the expense of taxpayers. The fact that earmarks are growing again is cause for alarm.”

This year’s pork barrel included $8 million for an aquatic plant control program, double the $4 million earmarked in 2015. Members of Congress have created 22 earmarks worth a total of $38.1 million for aquatic plant control projects through the years, according to CAGW.

Recent requesters include Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, Sen. [crscore]Patrick Leahy[/crscore], a Democrat from Vermont, and Sen. [crscore]Jeff Sessions[/crscore], a Republican from Alabama.

Congress also designated $5.9 million for the East-West Center in Honolulu, a place to foster “better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia and the Pacific through cooperative study, research and dialogue,” according to the center’s website. Congress stopped funding the North-South Center, a project similar to the East-West Center, in 2001, and the private sector took over the responsibility.

“Following that logic, the East-West Center should be funded by the private sector as well,” the report said. “It probably would be except the center is located in the state of a Senate appropriator” — Democratic Sen. [crscore]Brian Schatz[/crscore].

Congress also set aside $9.9 million for the National Park Service-operated Heritage Partnership Program that funds park improvements, sports complexes, health centers and sustainable agriculture, but “lacks a systematic process to identify and designate these national heritage areas,” a 2009 federal government assessment found.

There are is also an earmark to spend $84.7 million for House office buildings under the Architect of the Capitol, likely for the Cannon House Office Building renovation project, CAGW said.

“Hopefully the finished product will not be as much of a boondoggle as the Capitol Visitor Center,” CAGW said.

The 2008 project finished about $400 million over budget.

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