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Editorial: Earmarks? Send ’em on

The $410 billion federal spending bill signed by President Obama on Wednesday is Washington at its worst ó a pork-laden monstrosity of a plan that includes more than 8,000 earmarks ó or pet legislative projects ó totaling $8 billion.
It’s just the sort of thing Obama the candidate promised to change ó to banish “the old ways of doing business” ó and he says he still has every intention of doing that … in the next budget cycle. Taxpayers will be watching to see if he is, in fact, able to resist the deeply entrenched tendency of Washington lawmakers to bloviate about wasteful spending while privately lobbying to slip in favored projects for the constituents back home. It’s the political equivalent of telling others to eat their veggies and drink skim milk while secretly indulging in high-cholesterol steaks and Häagen-Dazs.
In this case, we can at least have the satisfaction of knowing that some of the pork will be on our plates here in Rowan County. Among those much-reviled earmarks are several N.C. projects, including a $2 million grant for improvements at the Rowan County airport. Former Sen. Elizabeth Dole promised this would be forthcoming last August, and now her successor, Sen. Kay Hagan, will preside over the actual delivery of the funds. Another earmark, courtesy of Rep. Robin Hayes, designates $925,000 for a railroad crossing bridge in Kannapolis.
We doubt that any state or local lawmaker is going to pull a Mark Sanford here and sent the money back. The South Carolina governor says he’s so disgusted with Washington budgeting practices (and stimulus packages) that he plans to return at least part of the funds his state is due to receive from the president’s economic-stimulus bill. While some earmarks appear to be of questionable merit ó cricket control in Utah? a trade center in Montana? ó the airport improvements and railroad crossing are worthwhile expenditures. The airport is one of Rowan’s most important marketing tools, local officials say, and the railroad overpass will make travel safer for motorists.
Of course, all the folks in Utah, Montana and the thousands of local jurisdictions benefitting from these earmarks could well make the same argument for their particular pet project. One person’s pork is another’s economic improvement plan. That’s why the many previous presidents who’ve vowed to clean up earmarks have failed to do so.
No matter how loudly politicians may proclaim their dislike of pork, they’re never reluctant to dish it out for the folks back home ó and claim credit for doing so.

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