Keeping a level playing field for Nebraska
Sen. Ben Nelson
In this age of terrorism, it's doubtful that anyone in Nebraska would call $11 million for new security gates at Offutt Air Force Base, home of our nation's strategic forces, "pork."
It's also doubtful in a state where agriculture is our main economic engine that anyone would think that $60.6 million is wasteful government spending for an agriculture research facility at UNL.
In a state where drought is always a concern and has caused millions of dollars in damage no one would think it's a waste to invest in drought monitoring and management for the entire country at the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln.
Earmarks Fund Worthwhile Projects
Somewhere along the line worthwhile projects like these that are funded by federal dollars sought by elected officials at the request of local and military officials got a bad name. These earmarks were wrongly branded as pork for political reasons and as a result scared some politicians away from requesting them to help their states.
As news stories recently pointed out, I am the lone member of the Nebraskan delegation currently requesting earmarks. My colleagues have backed away, which is a shame because it's helpful when more elected officials request them. Nebraska suffers when it doesn't fight full force for funding it rightfully deserves.
The earmarks I requested this year total about $183 million. You can see a complete list on my website, and very soon will be able to see letters from those who requested my help to get them.
Who Requests Earmarks
I don't just do these on my own. It's part of a process working with officials throughout the state on projects that would not be funded in Nebraska if it weren't for earmarks. I will not abandon by fellow Nebraskans even though earmarks have gotten such a bad name and requesting them may hurt me politically.
To be sure, earmarks have been abused by some in Congress. The infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska comes to mind.
Also, some earmarks I requested didn't turn out exactly as I'd hoped. Projects such as the South Beltway in Lincoln, the I-80 Kearney Interchange and the Niobrara River Roads have received federal funds, but were held up either by state or federal agencies for reasons that are difficult to understand.
Nebraska Needs to Fight for Fair Share
It's hard sometimes to understand that earmarks don't actually increase spending. The annual budget resolution approved by Congress sets overall spending levels of how much will be spent. All earmarks do is direct just 1 percent of that money to specific projects.
If we don't fight to get some of the spending in Nebraska, nameless, faceless bureaucrats in Washington will earmark money their own way to be spent in larger states like California, Texas and New York, which are the top three recipients of federal dollars.
In a perfect world, all funding would be based on merit and merit would be based on comprehensive and objective criteria. That hasn't been the case in the past and unlikely to change in the future. As long as federal agencies and bureaucrats determine the criteria and priorities, elected officials are going to have to remain diligent in making sure that the needs of all Americans, including those that live in less populated rural states like Nebraska, are considered.
That puts the burden on your elected officials to work hard to make sure that some of the tax dollars you send to Washington are returned to your state for worthwhile projects here, which is what I will continue to do.