December 10, 2007

The Price Of Pork Refusal

You can almost write the headlines yourself: "Congressman Forgoes Pork, Women And Minorities Hardest Hit". The Star Tribune tries that on John Kline, the Republican representing Minnesota's Second Congressional District -- my own, in fact. They manage to make a virtue look like a vice in noting his conversion to anti-pork activism, and line up a few complainers to make the point (via True North):

As Congress lurches toward a budget showdown before Christmas, Minnesota Rep. John Kline is at the center of an ideological food fight over the role of pork-barrel "earmarks." The Lakeville Republican calls the system of special funding for pet projects a "corrupting" influence in Congress, and says he won't take any.

That has left officials in his rapidly growing suburban district wanting federal dollars to complete projects from the Cedar Avenue Transitway to the expansion of Hwy. 212 in Carver County.

While some appreciate the principle of his stand, others note that he only became pure on pork after the Democrats took charge.

Moreover, they say, Kline worked the trough when the GOP was writing the bills.

Kline acknowledges that he earmarked during his first two years in Congress. However, having heard the message on fiscal responsibility that voters sent in 2006, he came back to the House determined to change the culture. That includes not just eschewing pork-barrel politics, but also voting for earmark reform every chance he gets. The Club for Growth gave him a perfect rating for this session of Congress, one of only 11 Representatives to earn it.

Do people back home appreciate his efforts to keep pork out of the budget process, even in a year where he clearly could use the fundraising it would generate? Some clearly do not:

Others on the Dakota County Board, including former Eagan Mayor Tom Egan, complain that the planned Mall of America bus corridor "is not a 'Bridge to Nowhere' " -- a reference the now infamous Alaska project regarded as the turning point in last year's backlash against earmarks.

The Mall of America regularly touts itself as a tourist destination. Visitors fly from Europe to go on shopping tours. It makes so much money that its owners plan a Phase II expansion in order to reclaim the title of the continent's largest shopping mall. If Minnesota thinks that a "bus corridor" would help make even more money for the mall, then it should apply its own tax revenues for that purpose. As the Lady Logician writes:

Now I fully understand that the MOA bus [corridor] is important to some residents of Eagan and Apple Valley and Bloomington, but you know what - the so-called "Bridge to Nowhere" was just as important to some residents of the Kodiak Island Alaska area! That in a nutshell is the problem with pork. To the residents of the district - that spending project IS important, but what is important to Norwood/Young America is not important to the residents of New Orleans or the residents of Atlanta.

We can simplify this even further. A bus corridor that begins and ends in John Kline's district is almost by definition not a federal issue. Its funding should come from the state or the local community. Addressing these kinds of issues via federal budget earmarking not only takes the decision away from local entities, it bogs the federal budget down with so many initiatives that it becomes impossible to properly manage. The other projects mentioned in the Strib's piece fall into the same category -- county roads, state highways, none of which have any connection to federal jurisdiction at all.

Kline understands this, at least in his third term. In keeping with his quiet demeanor, he has not made pork into a loud rhetorical campaign issue. He has instead put his money where his mouth is, and forsworn pork. If more Representatives and Senators did the same, we could help eliminate the kind of government-for-sale rackets we see in other members' activities. Eventually, the price of pork refusal would drop far below the price of pork pursuit -- and we might just get cleaner government as a result.


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