Yakima Herald-Republic: Kittitas County land purchase is not the mark of an earmark

by Editorial Board

September 13, 2013

The practice of earmarks — as conducted in Congress and in state legislatures — can be viewed as boon or bane, depending on who’s doing the defining. Critics consider them sneaky ways that lawmakers slip in funds for pet projects or to benefit key constituencies. Advocates — and some lawmakers are open advocates — argue they are a way for lawmakers to take care of their districts. Both sides will likely agree that earmarks provide a means for lawmakers to “bring home the bacon.”

With a connotation of subterfuge and sleight-of-hand, earmarks fell out of favor when the recent economic recession eroded government revenues and heightened concerns about government deficits. In Washington, D.C., the Republican-controlled House banned the practice. In Washington state, the politically split Legislature limited earmarks as the recession hit. But with the economy on the mend, the practice made a comeback in the 2013-15 capital budget.

The $170 million that went to legislators’ home districts make up less than 5 percent of the $3.6 billion capital budget, which is primarily designed to fund nuts-and-bolts needs like school construction and sewer projects. The earmarks include a Whatcom County library, a Forks-area monument and money to buy land for a Washington State University-run education center in Everett.

What is also this year considered an earmark — one that prompted a “me, too” from westside legislators who wanted something for their districts — is $100 million championed by state Sen. Jim Honeyford to buy 50,000 acres in Kittitas County as part of the Yakima River Basin Enhancement Project.

This is an earmark? Well, now.

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