DES MOINES, Iowa – After Congres banned earmarks a decade ago, they are returning, with new restrictions, under Democratic leadership with some Republican support. Earmarks are funding requests made by members of Congress for specific projects in their home districts.
Earmarks were tied to pork-barrel spending and became increasingly unpopular as deficit spending increased and the national debate grew. Also, earmarking benefitted incumbents running for re-election as they could point to specific federal dollars they brought back to their districts. They have also been used to entice lawmakers to vote for an appropriations bill they may oppose. Those who support congressional earmarks say it is better for Congress, not unelected bureaucrats in the executive branch, to make these decisions based on feedback they receive from constituents. Some also argue that congressional earmarking makes the budgeting process more transparent.
The U.S. House Appropriations Committee released a list of members of Congress that made requests for “community project funding.” Members had an April 30 deadline to submit requests. New transparency rules required members to publish on their individual websites their requests. Members who request earmarks are required to certify that they, their spouse, and their immediate family do not have a financial interest in the project.
Earmarks for fiscal year 2022 are capped at one percent of the discretionary budget. The House Appropriations Committee banned earmarks to for-profit entities. Only state and local governments or select non-profit organizations can receive earmarks. Members can only make up to ten requests, and the House Appropriations Committee will only select some projects for funding.
Earmark requests from U.S. Reps. Ashley Hinson, R-Iowa, Marianette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, and Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, totaled over $51 million. U.S. Rep. Randy Feenstra, R-Iowa, did not provide any funding requests.
Here are the requests made by each member:
Hinson – Iowa 1st Congressional District
Hinson made ten requests totaling $26,428,000, but one request made with U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability program made up over $22,500,000 of her total requests.
- Leader in Me Project – $50,000 to expand support expanding their student leadership program into two new schools in the Cedar Valley region. (Leader Valley Foundation in Waterloo)
- Independence Municipal Airport – $1,000,000 to build a new airport parking apron. (City of Independence)
- Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program – $22,500,00 for an authorized new construction start for Locks & Dams 25 in the Upper Mississippi River System and at LaGrange on the Illinois Waterway. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Rock Island District)
- Chaplain Schmitt Island Trial Connection – $615,000 to help finalize an underfunded portion of a project, connecting a system of 30 miles of trails with the Chaplain Schmitt Island through Dubuque, all the way to Dyersville. (City of Dubuque)
- Protivin Community Fire District – $100,000 to help build a new fire station serving parts of rural Jackson County. (Protivin Community Fire District)
- Jackson County Emergency Operations Center – $263,000 to help construct a physical Emergency Operations Center in Maquoketa (Jackson County Board of Supervisors)
- Jones County Affordable Housing Project – $500,000 to help develop affordable housing options across Jones County. (Jones County Economic Development)
- Tower Terrace Road Corridor – $1,000,000 to support the construction of an east-to-west arterial connector roadway increase accessibility in Hiawatha, Robins, Marion, and Cedar Rapids and outlying communities. (Corridor Metropolitan Planning Organization)
- Marshalltown Medical Clinic Construction Project – $200,000 to expand the clinic from 19 to 32 exam rooms. (Primary Health Care, Inc.)
- Sunflower Child Development and Discovery Center – $200,000 to enable the construction of a brand-new facility in Decorah with over double its present capacity for childcare, a public educational STEM-focused space, and an indoor play space available for community use. (Sunflower Child Care Center, Inc.)
Miller-Meeks – Iowa 2nd Congressional District
Miller-Meeks made nine requests totaling $14,150,000, except for a request for Indian Hills Community College are all infrastructure-related. They are:
- Burlington Sewer Separation – $1,700,000 to complete additional sewer separation and road work. (City of Burlington)
- City of Dewitt Extension of East Industrial Street – $1,000,000 to extend East Industrial Street and the public utilities adding nearly 150 acres to the City’s industrial park. (City of Dewitt)
- Fort Madison Marina Project – $750,000 to complete waterside improvements to increase public access to the Mississippi River for recreational, economic, and tourism opportunities. (City of Fort Madison)
- Indian Hills Community College – $5,000,000 to help fund the hiring of College and Career Transition Counselors (Indian Hills Community Collge)
- Iowa City Transit – $750,000 for completing the design phase for the new Iowa City Transit Operations and Maintenance Facility. (Iowa City Transit/City of Iowa City)
- Mahaska Oskaloosa Driving Economic Success (MODES) Planning Study – $850,000 to help fund the public-private project, MODES, for a new roadway that will provide improved regional and local access in rural east central Iowa. (Mahaska County)
- Ottumwa Combined Sewer Overflow – $2,500,000 to fund The Blake’s Branch Sewer project as part of the city’s continued efforts to meet federal and state mandates to remedy the Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) throughout the city. (City of Ottumwa)
- Reconstruction of Hwy. 38 – $1,000,000 to fund the first two of three phases of the reconstruction of Iowa Highway 38, also known as Cedar Street, Tipton’s main street. (City of Tipton)
- Scott County Bridge Replacement – $600,000 for a bridge replacement project located near Pleasant Valley on the National Bridge Inspection system and considered structurally deficient. (Scott County Secondary Roads Department)
Axne – Iowa 3rd Congressional District
Axne submitted ten requests totaling $10,696,672.40. They are:
- Van Meter Public Safety – $500,000 to help fund a new public safety facility. (City of Van Meter)
- Stanton Childcare Resource Center Expansion Project – $1,000,000 to begin constructing a new center with 11,134 square feet, additional classroom space that would accommodate an additional 49 childcare slots for children. (Stanton Childcare Resource Center)
- Ringgold Child Care Center Re-Design Project – $725,336 to fund updates to a 24-year-old building and creating safer outdoor play areas. (Ringgold Child Care Center)
- Creston Waterworks Intake Project – $600,000 to upgrade its 12 Mile Intake and 12 Mile Water treatment plant. (Creston City Waterworks)
- NW Saylorville Drive Sewer Extension – $1,000,000 to allow the City of Johnston to extend 11,820 linear feet of sanitary sewer almost exclusively through federally owned land (Camp Dodge) to connect the northwest portion of the City to the municipal sanitary sewer system. (City of Johnston)
- Primary Health Care Dental Project – $100,000 to purchase new dental operatory equipment at the Bery Engebretsen Dental Clinic located in Des Moines. (Primary Health Care, Inc.)
- South End Housing Development Project – $904,336.43 to fund infrastructure projects within the South End neighborhood in Council Bluffs. The projects will facilitate the construction of single-family and multi-family housing units. (City of Council Bluffs)
- North Glycol Storage Tank Repair – $3,267,000 to fund the repair of the Des Moines International Airport’s largest glycol storage tank, which is part of an aircraft apron expansion that will provide deicing pads for aircraft deicing near the terminal. (Des Moines International Airport)
- Racoon River East Pedestrian Bridge – $1,000,000 to construct a pedestrian bridge that will connect Raccoon River Park on the north side of the Raccoon River in West Des Moines to Walnut Woods State Park on the south. (City of West Des Moines)
- Warren County Bridge Replacement Project – $1,600,000 to replace the existing bridge on County Highway R57 over the North River in Warren County with a pretensioned prestressed concrete beam (PPCB) bridge. The current bridge has a crash history, a sufficiency rating of 02, and is classified as poor. (Warren County)
Feenstra – Iowa 4th Congressional District
The Iowa Torch confirmed with Feenstra’s office that he did not submit any earmark requests.
“While he took the time to do his due diligence before making a final decision, no projects were requested,” a Feenstra spokesperson said in an email sent to The Iowa Torch. “The final decision was made when it became clear that the Biden-Harris administration was set to propose an unprecedented $6 trillion in spending in total, which will only worsen the already sad state of America’s fiscal health. Congressman Feenstra believes it is time for Congress to restore fiscal stability and balance our budget so that we can begin making sound investments in America’s future.”
Both U.S. Senators Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, have opposed the return of earmarking in the U.S. Senate that has similar restrictions as the House.
Ernst in January called earmarks a “ham-fisted” tactic that devoted taxpayer money to special interests and lawmakers’ pet projects. She said she would strongly oppose any defense spending bill that contained earmarks.
Grassley in a speech on the Senate floor in early March said he was “strongly against” the return of earmarks.
“America cannot afford to go back to including earmarks in some ill-conceived effort to grease the wheels to pass legislation only because it includes pet projects for congressmen. While a small part of the budget, earmarks can cause members of Congress to focus on projects for their districts or state instead of holding government accountable and being fiscally responsible. Congress should follow regular order by authorizing funding for programs with very specific criteria. Legislation, including funding bills, should be passed on its merits, not on whether an earmark is included,” he said.