But move may represent more style than substance
Ben Baeder, Sandra Emerson and James Rufus Koren, Staff Writers
Created: 11/20/2010 07:08:28 AM PST

Republicans appear ready to ban earmarks when they take over the House in January.

On Thursday, they agreed to go ahead with halting the use of earmarks, those pet projects members tack onto spending bills.

As presumptive House Rules Committee chairman, Rep. David Dreier, R-San Dimas, will be in charge of outlawing the practice.

“The fact is earmarks have been labeled as a symbol of all things bad in Washington,” Dreier said. “I’m not going to ignore that. I recognize the people sent a very strong message to Washington.”

Like other area politicians, Dreier said he was proud of the money designated for projects in his district.

Last year, he and Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Los Angeles, and Grace Napolitano, D-Norwalk, helped secure $3.5million to clean up weapons-manufacturing chemicals left in the area’s groundwater.

The weapons benefited the whole country, so the federal government ought to pay for the leftover pollutants, Dreier said.

Other Dreier earmarks went to defense contractors in Monrovia and La Verne.

“I’m proud of my earmarks,” Dreier said. “But I understand perception is reality.”

Ideally the cessation of earmarks will make it easier for big states to better compete for federal dollars, said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that tracks government spending and pushes for smaller government.

States with small populations such as Alaska, Hawaii and Mississippi are awarded disproportionate shares of federal money because their representatives are high-ranking members on appropriations committees in the House of Representatives and the Senate, Ellis said.

California ranked 39th per capita in federal funding, he said.

“Ideally, projects would be funded on merit, not because someone owes someone else a political favor,” Ellis said.

Earmarks breed corruption and water down ideology. And when they are used to benefit a small group of people, voters become more disillusioned, he said.

“It does feed voter cynicism,” he said. “People recognize these decisions aren’t being made on the merits. As Americans, we like to have a system where merit is rewarded.”

Rep. Gary Miller, R-Brea, has been scrutinized for several earmarks that steered funding toward local projects.

So far in 2010, Miller has been involved in $101 million worth of earmarks, including solo requests as well as requests with other members and President Barack Obama.

But Miller said in a statement that he supports the ban.

“I believe in earmark reform and remain committed to following House Republican Conference rules, which means that I will not be submitting funding requests for the coming fiscal year,” he said. “I hope both parties in Congress can come together to enhance earmark transparency and accountability so that important local projects can be funded in the future.”

This year, Miller requested $9 million in earmarks for two Rancho Cucamonga-based affordable-housing organizations founded by developer Jeff Burum, which drew fire from one of his opponents during the June primary campaign.

The organizations, National CORE and Hope Through Housing, received nearly $5.9million worth of earmarks.

Rancho Cucamonga is not in Miller’s 42nd District, but National CORE has three projects within his district.

The ability for members of Congress to do favors for campaign contributors through earmarks has made the ban an ethical statement rather than an economic one, said Jack Pitney, political science professor at Claremont McKenna College.

“The ethics problem really tainted the whole process of earmarking,” Pitney said. “There were also some stories of projects that didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but the amount of money involved is very minuscule in comparison with the entire federal budget.”

In fact, Pitney said, the ban would have no impact on the federal deficit whatsoever.

“Instead of Congress determining where money gets spent, the executive branch will,” he said. “From a budget standpoint earmarks are a nonissue.”

Rep. Joe Baca, D-San Bernardino, views the ban as a political smoke screen meant to play politics with the issue of deficit reduction.

“Earmarks make up less than three-tenths of one percent of the federal budget,” he said. “Everyone knows banning earmarks will do absolutely nothing to lower the deficit.”

Like Dreier, Baca said he is proud of the federal dollars he steered toward the Inland Empire including for perchlorate cleanup, the construction of the sbX bus line in San Bernardino, new equipment for local police departments and improvements for youth programs.

Aaron Hake, director of legislative affairs for San Bernardino Associated Governments, said he expects Baca, Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, and other lawmakers will continue pushing for federal funding, even if they cannot use earmarks.

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