Port Tenant Grant Provides Discussion Point on Earmarks

I found this image here.

When the discussion of earmarks comes up in this and future elections, it won’t be over the kind of money that was given to SAFE Boats International this past week. It also won’t fit the narrow parameters of the term “pork,” as defined here.

The broadest definition of pork is money for a constituent of a single politician in exchange for contributions or votes. Since 2003, two employees of SAFE Boats have given $10,350 to Dicks, according to opensecrets.org. Does that mean the $579,000 SAFE Boats received is because of the $10,350 its officials donated to Dicks’ campaigns?

On the surface, no. SAFE Boats, a Port of Bremerton tenant, will receive $579,000 as one of 19 recipients of the new Assistance to Small Shipyards program, which was established as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006. The money is to be used for capital improvements and can’t be more than 75 percent of the total needed.

It does not meet the earmark definition because the allocation required an application and a competitive process. Earmarks are delivered by members of the different Appropriations committees and don’t involve a set process.

According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, Dicks ranks 10th out of 435 members of Congress in securing earmarks in the House’s FY’08 budget when he’s joining with other members and sixth at going solo. When the president is involved in the earmark, Dicks is 39th. All of the money, $124.3 million, attributed to Dicks was allocated without going through the process SAFE Boats went through with this particular grant.

But now we have presidential candidate John McCain, who vows to veto bills that contain earmarks, and Norm Dicks, one of the most successful at funneling earmarks into his district. So does someone who votes for both McCain and Dicks vote at cross purposes?

Not necessarily.

In the news story about the grant, the company credited Dicks and Sen. Patty Murray with helping secure the grant. When the port received its $3 million from the Dept. of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, Dicks was given much of the credit for getting the funding. So even if there is a process and application involved, it would appear the Sixth District congressman has quite a bit of sway.

Newsweek (via factcheck.org), by the way, has a story examining the impact of earmarks that suggests they have little impact on the overall federal budget.

The $124.3 million attributed to Dicks wouldn’t go back to taxpayers, because what an earmark does much of the time is direct different agencies how to spend they money they already have. What earmarks do take away is some of the discretion those agencies have in deciding where the money goes. In essence, Congress is making that decision for them.

Where you can all argue, though, aside from all the technical definitions, is when it is appropriate for the federal government to spend taxpayer money to help a private business retool. To you that may be pork, even if it isn’t an earmark.

UPDATE: This entry was changed since its original publication to correct a misspelled word in the headline.

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