Shining light on earmarks can reduce spending abuses

Taxpayers should be able to track how their money is spent.

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When funding is approved by Congress, not all those in the House or Senate realize what they have approved. Allocating billions of dollars is a complex process governed by a variety of procedural rules. This allows some funding to be approved quietly by using earmarks.

Earmarks -- the way in which senators and representatives can garner funds (usually for their state or district) with little attention -- remain a way to do business in Washington, D.C., despite the attempts at reform. Earmarks can be abused and are an affront to taxpayers.

The earmark system allows members of Congress to gain funding for pet projects without proper debate -- or sometimes no debate.

In 2008 an investigation by The Seattle Times found lawmakers exploited loopholes in the law to avoid disclosing $3.5 billion in earmarks attached to the 2008 Defense Bill.

Recently the Huffington Post conducted an investigation finding eight lawmakers on the 60-member House Appropriations Committee attempted to skirt rules that don't allow direct earmark funding to private business by funneling millions of dollars through nonprofit organizations into the hands of businesses. The New York Times had a similar report in which it identified "dozens" of such earmark requests totaling $150 million to indirectly benefit profit-making companies.

At least some of House members dispute the claims.

Nevertheless, it's apparent there is a gray area in funding allocations. It's not always easy to track where the cash is going, and who it is going to, despite constant calls for reform over the past decade.

Ironically, it's the effort to please voters that stymies real reform.

It seems what voters really mean when they tell pollsters they find earmarks unacceptable is that they find the use of earmarks by other people's senators and representatives unacceptable.

But it is certainly appropriate when it is their lawmaker who has obtained funding for a local or state project. And those who secure those projects are usually rewarded with campaign contributions and re-election.

Still, progress on reform has been made. Earmarks are now being watched much more closely by news organizations, public-interest groups and citizens. The light being shined on earmark requests will, over time, reduce the spending abuses.

The sooner the better. All funding requests should be made out in the open so taxpayers know how their money is being spent.



Correction

An editorial published June 30 incorrectly stated the Legislature approved a plan that allows the University of Washington, Washington State University and Western Washington University to increase tuition each year for the next seven years. This proposal was not approved by lawmakers.

The Legislature did allow tuition to increase 14 percent a year the last two years.

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