Standards and accountability lose as earmarks proliferate in budget deal

By a conservative count, there are over $32 million in earmarked special projects funded in the conference budget being debated this week. After years of railing against patronage and backroom deals, House and Senate leadership have suddenly become big fans of earmarking funds for legislator’s pet projects back home.

This list of projects is just the tip of the local need iceberg. After years of tax cuts and hemming in local governments’ ability to raise funds, there is a deep backlog of important local projects that deserve state support. While many of the earmarks address local priorities that have gone unfulfilled in recent years, this budget does little to address the structural deficit in our investment in local communities.

Earmarking funds for pet projects is no the way to do good policy. There was no public process that determined which projects address the more striking needs, which projects will have the largest social and economic impacts, and which projects have the broadest community support.

These earmarks also lack accountability. In well-administered programs, recipients of public funds are obligated to document that funds were used appropriately and actually achieved the intended goal. These types of accountability standards often help to refine programs over time, make it more likely that good stewards of public funds receive support in subsequent years, and provide an empirical basis for evaluating the effectiveness of the program. Unfortunately, many of the earmarks in this year’s budget lack even these most basic features of good governance.

— Budget & Tax Center Staff Report

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