Of all the sniping that has gone on between the Perry and Hutchison campaigns, the skirmish that I find to be the most dismaying—and the worst for Texas—is the Perry campaign’s attack on Hutchison for her success in getting funding for designated federal projects in the state, popularly (or unpopularly) known as earmarks. The attack is completely cynical, since earmarks benefit the state that he governs. They are a device that allow the state to recoup money that it sends to Washington. Is Perry against this? Which earmarks would he reject? What funds would he return to the federal government that he loves to criticize?
The campaign’s attack on Hutchison said, “[H]er support of earmarks and pork-barrel projects has led to the near tripling of our nation’s debt.” Isn’t it amazing how much damage one senator can do. Here I thought the tripling of our national debt was due to George W. Bush’s financing a war by borrowing from China and Saudi Arabia instead of asking Americans to pay for it, or because he bestowed gazillions of dollars on banks, or because Barack Obama bought himself an automobile company for the federal government to run. Apparently not. It’s the $2 million for a visitor’s center at the Palo Alto civil war battlefield site near Brownsville that’s going to break us. Or maybe it is the $725,000 that would allow Dallas Children’s Medical Center to build and equip a lab for enterovirus testing, which would allow doctors to more quickly diagnose bacterial or virus-borne illness. Now there’s waste, fraud, and abuse for you.
In the absence of earmarks, federal agencies can decide whether or not to fund a project. An earmark puts the decision in the hands of elected officials, who can require that the money be spent for the designated purpose. I think that is a good thing. I would rather have decisions about spending made in Texas, or in the office of a public official from Texas, than in Washington. In most cases, the earmark reflects the desires of local interests. That is a good thing too. Local leaders should decide what is best for their communities, and elected officials should carry out their will.
Earmarks create jobs. Some contractor is going to build the visitor center at Palo Alto battlefield. The contractor is going to hire workers. His payroll, flush with federal tax dollars, will pump money into his community. Governor Perry has not hesitated to use tax dollars, by the tens of millions, for Enterprise Fund projects that he believes will create jobs. What is the difference between the Enterprise Fund and earmarks, except that Governor Perry gets to pick the winners? The outcome is the same: tax dollars are being used to generate economic activity that creates jobs. Why hasn’t the Hutchison campaign made this argument?
A story in the Dallas Morning News listed some of the projects Hutchison had secured funding for over the years. Among them were:
* $13.6 million for a fitness center at Randolph Air Force Base
* $8.7 million for a child development center at Lackland Air Force Base
* $86 million for a new Rapid Transit line in Dallas
* $39 million for the Trinity River project in Dallas
* Unspecified sums for dredging the Houston Ship Channel
Every one of these projects creates jobs. The new DART line is a huge construction project. It will have economic ramifications that extend beyond payrolls, because it will improve mobility. The Trinity River project is something Dallas leaders have long sought. It too involves major construction. Ports are huge economic engines, and dredging the Houston Ship Channel makes the Port of Houston more accessible to large vessels, increasing the diversity of cargo that can be handled by the port. Texas leaders have always placed a high priority on getting federal money for the state. Does Rick Perry think we ought to give the money for dredging the ship channel back to the Corps of Engineers?
What bothers me about the Perry campaign’s making an issue out of earmarks is that it creates a political climate that will hurt Texas in the long run.