Monday, December 24, 2007

Exposing Pork

believe one of the greatest problems created by big government is the ease with which it redistributes wealth. This occurs when one group of people use the power of the government to take money from the average taxpayer and give it to special interests.

One of the most offensive mechanisms used to raid the treasury and redistribute money is that of "earmarking." This is the process through which an influential politician essentially cuts a check from the treasury for some pet program or organization.

US Senator Tom Coburn has experienced increasing success in exposing this policy in federal government. By doing so, he is turning up the heat on politicians and making it uncomfortable for them to continue maintaining the big government status-quo. In state government, politicians will insert an earmark into an appropriations bill with just a few days left in the legislative session. This earmark is then voted on as part of a bigger appropriations bill that is not allowed to be amended. If a legislator dares to vote against the bill, then that legislator may face controversy for appearing to vote against justifiable appropriations in the same bill.

One of the vehicles legislators have used for this policy in the past has been an appropriations bill for the Oklahoma Department of Commerce. Certain Department of Commerce appropriations would be earmarked to pass through the Department of Commerce to a second government entity, such as one of the regional government councils. The director of the regional government council would than receive a call from the House of Representatives or the Senate. The caller would instruct the director on how he should spend that money. Sometimes the instructions might be for the money to pass to another government entity, or even to a non-government entity. In this way, money took a variety of twists and turns that made it almost impossible for the public to track. Even many legislators had little opportunity to know the purpose for which money was spent. This allowed powerful committee chairs and high ranking legislators to have a tremendous amount of control over dispensing government largess. In some years, the amount of special projects money in the Department of Commerce alone amounted to millions of dollars. It was the discovery of these abuses which led to the federal scrutiny of some former legislators, after it was realized they may have personally profited from this spending.

Earlier this year, the legislature passed and the Governor signed House Bill 1278. On the surface, HB 1278 was just an appropriations bill for the Oklahoma Department of Tourism. But with research, it became obvious that Senate budget negotiators had loaded up the bill with thousands of dollars of pork earmarks, or "pass through" spending. Pass through spending does not really go to the appropriated entity, but is "PASSED THROUGH" to an outside organization. One of the most controversial provisions was an appropriation of $200,000 for a line item known only as "A Pocket Full of Hope." As one Commissioner of the Tourism Department pointed out, there will be little if any opportunity for us to audit these expenditures and see how the money is really spent. Lt. Governor Mary Fallin, who used to be a member of the tourism board, also used her position to call on legislators to reform the system. Sadly, that call appears to have gone unheeded.

I believe it is wrong for politicians to forcefully take people's hard earned money and use it to cut checks for the privileged few. Senator Coburn's courage in standing against earmarks is contagious, and it is my belief that more and more elected officials will begin to take a position against this abuse

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