In recent years, much attention and scrutiny has been placed on the use of “earmarks” in the Federal budget. The federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) describes an earmark as “funds provided by the Congress for projects or programs where the congressional direction (in bill or report language) circumvents the merit-based or competitive allocation process, or specifies the location or recipient, or otherwise curtails the ability of the Executive Branch to properly manage funds.”
In North Carolina, with a much smaller budget, specific earmarking of projects in the budget is not as widespread, but still prevalent. For example, the Civitas Institute recently identified $205.4 million in “pork barrel” spending in the FY2007-2009 North Carolina budget. North Carolina, however, does not have the same earmarking system as the Federal government. Here, members file individual bills as placeholders or requests to denote their specific earmark. However, not all earmarks in the final budget come from filed bills – some are directly inserted by legislative leaders behind closed doors and without public scrutiny until the final version of the budget is made available and is unable to be changed or amended.
During the long session of the General Assembly recently completed, legislators filed 3,645 bills. The Civitas Institute has identified 668, or over 18% of all bills filed, as legislator earmarks for specific funding totaling nearly $1.5 billion. This represents the total amount of money wanted by legislators for their pet projects in the 2007-2008 fiscal year alone. $160 million of these requests actually made it into the budget.
The methodology used to identify earmark legislation in this report is based on the above OMB description. A legislator is credited with requesting the earmark if they are one of the primary sponsors of the legislation.
Funding for university and community college capital projects were included because those decisions should be made based on consultation with the Boards of Governors, not by the respective power of certain legislators. Also included were monies earmarked for specific nonprofit agencies. While the vast majority of these nonprofits are worthy organizations, earmarking funds to specific nonprofits bypasses the normal grant system, which better evaluates program worth, and opens the door for possible corruption and conflicts of interest.
SUMMARY OF FINDINGS:
• Total dollar amount of proposed earmark bills for FY2007-08 spending: $1.49 billion – $818.4 million from the House, $674.5 from the Senate.
• 668 total bills were filed requesting earmark spending – 399 from the House, 269 from the Senate.
• For the General Assembly as a whole, Democratic earmark spending requests amounted to 86 percent of the total dollar amount, compared to 14 percent for Republicans – a ratio of more than 6 to 1. The General Assembly membership ratio is 58 percent Democratic and 42 percent Republican.
• In the House, Democratic earmark spending requests came to 85 percent of the total dollar amount, compared to 15 percent for Republicans. The House membership ratio is 57 percent Democratic and 43 percent Republican.
• In the Senate, Democratic earmark spending requests came to 92 percent of the total dollar amount, compared to 8 percent for Republicans. The Senate membership ratio is 62 percent Democratic and 38 percent Republican.
• $160.7 million of the proposed earmark spending for FY2007-08 found its way into this year’s budget.
• $268.4 million of the proposed earmark spending for FY2007-08 was included in this year’s bond package. All of this money is dedicated to UNC system projects (new buildings), and paid for through the COP bonds.
Broken down by category, the earmark requests are as follows:
o 32.9 percent for the UNC system ($491,838,129)
o 23.04 percent for “local projects” ($343,946,884)
o 14.8 percent for “miscellaneous” ($220,912,282)
o 10.65 percent for economic development ($159,030,320)
o 9.71 percent for the community college system ($144,962,400)
o 8.86 percent for nonprofit use, without any specified project ($132,223,024)
DEFINITION OF CATEGORIES:
UNC System – earmarks mostly designated to new buildings for specific campuses, or new programs for specific schools
Local projects – include specific projects in targeted local areas; examples are: local buildings (i.e. community/senior center, library, museum, parks/athletic fields, agriculture centers, historic landmarks, etc.) – many specific projects listed in this category would be facilitated via donations to nonprofits
Miscellaneous – items that did not fit into any of the other categories, examples include: industry promotion funds, studies, basketball tournaments, subsidizing private internet connections, etc.
Economic Development Funds – typically specific to a region of the state and/or funneled through a nonprofit “economic development” organization
Community Colleges – earmarks mostly designated to new buildings for specific campuses, or new programs for specific schools
Nonprofits (unspecified) – money to a specifically named nonprofit without a specific project designated for use of the funds
The legislators with the five highest total requests are:
Rep. Marian McLawhorn (D-Pitt) – $173,726,000
Rep. Joe Tolson (D-Edgecombe) – $169,900,000
Rep. Arthur Williams (D-Beaufort) – $162,827,000
Rep. Edith Warren (D-Pitt) – $145,927,480
Sen. Clark Jenkins (D-Edgecombe) – $124,089,336
(To view the entire report, please see the attached PDF files.)