Home / Commentary / Views from around the state: Congress: Clean up after ‘orphaned earmarks’

Views from around the state: Congress: Clean up after ‘orphaned earmarks’

Don’t you love moving the couch cushions and finding loose change? That happens to Congress when it uncovers old earmarks. It has happened 7,374 times over, according to one report.

There’s a big problem, though. Unlike the rest of us, lawmakers can’t spend the money because it has been improperly designated for specific projects. USA Today reports that about $13 billion set aside for highway projects remains unspent.

Sure, it sounds good that the money wasn’t wasted. On the surface, it seems like these “orphaned earmarks” are harmless.

But they’re doing damage. Some earmarks are part of past transportation bills and therefore count against states’ shares of federal transportation funds. When they’re there, they could jeopardize newer projects that should get done.

It’s time for Congress to take a deeper look at our past finances — and mistakes in earmark requests — and clean them up. These orphaned earmarks are dragging down the system and confuse lawmakers and taxpayers.

One of the barriers to eradicating unspent earmarks is Congress itself. The process favors those who know how to work the system.

Frankly, it doesn’t matter. Our elected officials should vote to give the Department of Transportation authority to redistribute the money or find a solution that makes the money available for real projects, not imaginary ones.

Orphaned earmarks are yet another consequence of our messy legislative process.

Typos are one reason the money can’t be spent, and interagency arguments are another. In some cases, the legislator who requested the project was voted out of office or died before ground was broken.

Let’s find a way to clean the financial slate. And let’s clean up the earmark process. Not every dime found in the couch has to be spent immediately. Taxpayers are smarter than that.

The Post-Crescent, Appleton
Wetlands bill sets
a bad precedent

The recent back-and-forth over a wetland area in Green Bay gives us a pretty good look at what lies ahead in Wisconsin.

Last week, the Assembly approved a bill that essentially deals with a single parcel of land located near Lambeau Field, the home of the Green Bay Packers.

At stake was a Department of Natural Resources permit for businessman John Bergstrom to build what was expected to be the home of a Bass Pro Shops store. The permit was needed because the property contained wetlands and the DNR wanted to protect the sensitive area from development.

Eventually, the DNR and Bergstrom came to an agreement that allowed Bergstrom to fill in a smaller wetlands area and re-establish a larger wetland on another part of the property.

But an environmental group, Wisconsin Wetlands Association, challenged the DNR permit and sought a hearing before an administrative judge.

This is when Gov. Scott Walker and the Assembly stepped in and passed a bill to exempt the Bergstrom parcel from needing a wetland permit. This rendered the Wetlands Association challenge meaningless.

Walker and the Republican-controlled Assembly said the single-issue piece of legislation was needed in order to move the project along and create jobs and blamed Democrats for trying to kill jobs by opposing the measure.

We wonder if this is going to be a recurring theme in Madison: the governor and the Legislature ramming legislation through, circumventing the administrative hearing process under the guise of creating jobs?

Remember, too, that Gov. Walker wants to be the “decider” on whether administrative rules will be enacted.

In this Bergstrom case, the dispute here was mot between Bergstrom and the DNR. They already had agreed on a plan to deal with wetlands protection.

Walker and the Assembly took action to prevent someone exercising their right to challenge a permit process. We shudder to think what will happen if this becomes standard practice in Madison. Will people suddenly lose the right to challenge government actions?

The way Gov. Walker and the Assembly went about circumventing the process is not only wrong, but if continued will wreak havoc on the ability of state agencies to consistently apply rules and issue permits of all kinds.

As if this story needed any more twists and turns, Bass Pro Shops said Friday that it was backing out of any development on the land in question because it doesn’t support the idea of harming wetlands.

Company spokesman Lee Whitney said in a statement that the company is, “not in favor of doing anything to harm wetlands, wherever they might be.”

At least someone has their head on straight in this whole mess.

The Sheboygan Press

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