It isn't enough to flock like vultures to pick at the earmarked spoils of federal taxation or to spread the spoils around on questionable ventures. Politicians, apparently, have also developed a refined ability to make federal earmarks disappear.
Through a variety of circumstances almost always involving error, $13 billion in federal tax dollars earmarked for highway projects since 1991 in this country has gone unspent, according to a great package yesterday by USA Today. Of that total, the $417.4 million unspent in Texas is third only to New York and California.
What makes these 7,374 so-called orphan earmarks doubly damaging is they count against a state's total share of federal highway funds. USA Today estimates that these squandered earmarks have cost states $7.5 billion that could have been directed at other projects over the last 20 years.
Take the case of President Barack Obama and his former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. As the Democratic senator and the Democratic representative of Illinois, respectively, Obama and Emanuel teamed up in 2005 to secure nearly $2 million in pork for a highway underpass for a Chicago suburb.
The problem was that the underpass project had already been started with other funding, canceling their earmark and costing their state the $2 million in shared federal gas tax revenue.
It could have been worse. The city of Atlanta has $2.7 million in earmarked money that, by law, can only be spent on projects specific to its 1996 Olympics. Look for the Georgia delegation to include a substantial earmark in an upcoming transportation bill for the construction of a time machine.
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Photo of a pig by flickr user turfcutter, used via a Creative Commons license.