Georgia Democrats propose earmark database

February 2, 2011 16:10 pm

by Jason · 22 comments

With recent talk about ethics and transparency, some Georgia Democrats proposing legislation that would require an earmark database for specific line items requested by the Governor or members of the Georgia General Assembly:

Georgia’s House Democrats want to see a detailed online list of earmarks posted early and updated often during the state’s three-month budget-writing season.

By earmarks, the Democrats say they’re aiming for any funds assigned to a specific project named in the state budget.

One of the authors of the bill that proposes the database, state Rep. Elena Parent, D-Chamblee, downplays her party’s small numbers when asked about the chances of passage.

“I would assume this is something that could have bipartisan support,” she said.

Parent wants earmarks to be searchable by price, legislative district, recipient and more.

Former Gov. Sonny Perdue’s Go Fish program — a $19 million project that improved fish stocks, built boat ramps and a visitor center aimed at promoting economic development through fishing — is “a singular example” of an earmark, said House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta.

In fact, in Gov. Nathan Deal’s draft budget for next year, it’s a bit difficult to point to a line that smells like pork. Yet there are appropriations that rarely bask in the light of day.

Indeed, when legislators fight about annual appropriations, they’re not battling about a whole pie. Some things can’t be cut, such as interest payments. Some things have to be in the budget or the federal government won’t send down a matching grant.

Another somewhat obscure area is bonded projects. At the end of his budget, Deal lists projects that he recommends for funding via bond sales. But that list is not the easiest to find. It’s in a book for sale in Atlanta for $22 or online for anyone who happens to know to look at the right part of the right document on the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget website. And it’s not searchable by legislative district, something the Democrats propose.

This was a subject I was interviewed on back in 2007 when Chris Farris and I were running Georgia Porkbusters. Personally, I like the idea, and it’s something I’ve been pushing for some time. By no means does it mean that they’re going to cut spending, but it could help draw attention to egregious examples of waste and abuse of taxpayer dollars. It’s worth noting that in the last few years, some of the wasteful spending – including Local Assistance Grants – have been mostly, if not entirely, done away with. That doesn’t mean that Georgia has had pork-free budgets these last two or three years…God knows, the Republican-controlled legislature porked up the budget enough before the crisis to carry through until the economy improves.

shep1975 February 2, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Back in 2008, the state legislature eliminated local assistance grants (LAGs), even going back and amending the 2007 budget to remove LAGs as well.

This seems like a desperate attempt to gain attention. We have to keep in mind that even Go Fish was before the budget crisis and, even without a website to line item it, it got a lot of attention.

Jason February 3, 2011 at 6:25 am

I’m pretty sure I said that. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t earmarked spending in the yearly budget.

KD_fiscal conservative February 3, 2011 at 10:30 am

So Rep., would you vote against such a bill? I certainly hope not. Voting NAY on such a proposal will surely cause a tea party back lash, and comes off as opposing earmark reform and transparency. Not good move. Plus, I agree that there isn’t really a benefit, but what harm would such a database really do. Potential lose of political capital is not a good answer. Maybe you guys can prevent it from coming up to vote, and avoid the issue completely.

shep1975 February 3, 2011 at 11:14 am

I don’t disagree with you on that Pye. I just don’t know either way. My biggest concern right now with such a database is you will have to pay someone to create and maintain it. If it can be done with no extra cost, then I don’t see a problem. If it will cost more resources, then I don’t think there are so many pork projects right now that spending money on a database and website is worth it at this time. It really is amazing that something Jason Pye or I could do as volunteers would cost less than a $100. If the state government does it, the cost gets into the thousands.

DCA maintains an internal database on LAGs, which is not all of the pork, but most of it. I doubt it would be too difficult to put that database online. However, a private citizen, like a Tea Party Member, through open records could get that database and do the same thing for far less cost.

Once again, like I said above, I don’t think the government should spend taxpayer funds on ANYTHING the private sector can do better and cheaper.

Now, when it comes to accessing that data, I am all for sunshine laws. I think state government needs to be transparent, especially when it comes to where and to whom taxpayer dollars go. Remember, I said in my campaign that I would go so far as to put my own legislative office expenditures online so if I spent $3,000 on furniture for my home with taxpayer funds, like my opponent did, you would know about.

Jason February 3, 2011 at 11:45 am

I didn’t pay much attention to your campaign outside of what the AJC wrote.

shep1975 February 3, 2011 at 11:28 pm

…and the AJC and MDJ thought that issue wasn’t worth covering. They thought a 10+ year old arrest that was dismissed and that I was born with a last name I hadn’t used since 1988 was much more pertinent to the election than the misuse of state funds by a member of the legislature to buy furniture for their home.

bluedogdem February 2, 2011 at 6:43 pm

Shep, please explain your comment on GO FISH….Would you have voted for it back then if you were in the house? Whether or not the economy is good or bad, GO FISH should have never been built.

shep1975 February 2, 2011 at 7:58 pm

Absolutely not. Go Fish proved that government shouldn’t do things that are best left up to the private sector. I have the same opinion when it comes to golf courses and halls of fame.

Toxic Avenger February 3, 2011 at 10:07 am

So what’s your issue with this. You can call it grandstanding, you can say that it’s just to get attention, but can you honestly say that it’s a bad thing to point out earmarks (however infrequent you claim them to be)?

This seems like hypocracy of a new order to me. I can only presume you are for the national earmark ban, but yet you scoff at an attempt for a similar program to be instituted here in Georgia, but correct me if I’m wrong.

I'm Not A Crook February 3, 2011 at 10:09 am

Rep. Goldfarb likes the attention. Don’t enable him.

Toxic Avenger February 3, 2011 at 10:55 am

Correct me if I’m wrong, but Goldfarb (are you Jewish, Jason?) lost, making him not a Rep. Just a Mr. Goldfarb.

shep1975 February 3, 2011 at 11:59 am

I am half Jewish, qualifying that in the ethnicity, not the religion. If you know your Biblical history, since the return of the exiles from Babylonia, one is only considered “Jewish” if the mother is Jewish. If your father is Jewish and your mother isn’t, then technically I would have to go through a conversion process.

My father is an is non-practicing Jew who puts up a Christmas tree every year. You could look through the PP archives to find instances in the past where I have discussed my heritage. The Goldfarbs, being a German name meaning “gold color,” come from an area of Austria that is now in southeastern Poland since the break-up of the Austria-Hungarian Empire after WWI. My great-grandfather Goldfarb immigrated to New York in the 1870s and my grandfather was born in New York. My grandmother, whose last name was Faust, immigrated with her parents in 1903 through Ellis Island. They were from the same village as my great-grandfather Goldfarb.

Most of the rest of the family stayed behind in Europe and were killed in the Holocaust. In fact, we do not know of one family member in Europe who survived.

My parents divorced in 1988. It was a very nasty divorce and I would not have any contact with my father for more than 13 years (from age 12 to 25). My mother changed her name back to her maiden name, Shepherd, and, when I started high school in 1990, at my request, she enrolled me under her last name, although it had not been legally changed.

In 1991, we moved to Atlanta. While all my old friends in Germantown, TN knew me by both names, my new classmates here only knew me as Jason Shepherd. Even Tea Party activist Stephanie Ralston remembers when we were in homeroom together our sophomore year. “R” and “S” could be in the same home room, but “R” and “G” likely would not.

I had looked into changing my name pro se several times and even talked to a few lawyers, but really couldn’t find anyone to do it or give me advice on how to do it. When I started working at the capital, I took my lunch break and went to the Fulton County courthouse to see if I could find any information there. They handed me a packet with the forms and instructions. I filled them out, turned them into the court, and a few months later went before the judge and that was it.

If you think it is funny to make fun of someone who made a decision at 14 years old to align more with his mother’s rather than his father’s family after a bad divorce, then there has to be something seriously wrong with you. If you think it’s funny to make fun of people’s religion or religious heritage, then the words I would say to are not appropriate to publish here.

As for the topic at hand, my concern is cost. If it can be done with no extra cost at this time, then why not? If it will cost anything to put it together, then not at this time because we have more important things to worry about and the information is available through other means.

By the way, having personally seen where Dems send a lot of there pork versus where Republicans send it, the Dems may be opening a Pandora’s box that could end up hurting them a lot worse. I remember in 2001 when I working in the State Senate, Sen. Tom Price’s request for breathing equipment for the Roswell FD being cut, but the tens of thousands of dollars for a statue of a bronze mule for a Dem’s district was left in.

Ron Daniels February 3, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Just for everyone’s reference; future comments not on the topic of a pork database or comments that go to the issue of Shep’s personal life will be removed from this posting.

Habitual violators shall be shunned.

Lady Thinker February 3, 2011 at 10:04 pm

Thanks Ron. ‘Bout time.

Toxic Avenger February 3, 2011 at 1:27 pm

In risking Ron shunning me, I just wanted to let you know that I am Jewish as well (full blooded, mind you), and I was noting that Goldfarb sounds like a Jewish last name. Honestly, not much meant by that. I’m not a self-loather.

As for your on-topic point, I cannot see how it would be a good cost. And, in fact, I think we should keep Democrats honest as well. I’m for transparency, not against earmarks. In fact, you could call me for earmarks. There is some pork that is good, but there is some that is bad. Again, I’m just on the side of transparency.

But as to your last point, 2001 is very different from 2011. For one, Democrats aren’t in power, so I would not worry too much about any Pandoras boxes opening.

shep1975 February 3, 2011 at 10:42 pm

You didn’t see the LAGs I saw still coming from the Democrats versus Republicans when I was processing them from the 2006, 2007 and 2008 budgets.

Toxic Avenger February 4, 2011 at 9:00 am

Then let’s bring them out into the air, Shep.

shep1975 February 4, 2011 at 9:56 am

As I said, if it can be done for no cost, then why not? If it will have costs involved, then we have more important things to worry about.

Would you be willing to furlough even one teacher to have the database right now? I wouldn’t be willing to do that.

bluedogdem February 2, 2011 at 8:30 pm

Shep, I figured you were against it, but I just wanted to make sure I understand where you stood on this. GOFISH and other projects like this are bad. Keep up the good work.

I'm Not A Crook February 3, 2011 at 9:45 am

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

One man’s “wasteful spending project” is another man’s private leer jet that’s painted to look like a rainbow trout for $400,000 of taxpayer money.

Goldwater Conservative February 3, 2011 at 11:29 am

Sooner or later everyone will realize that earmarks are unavoidable. Sure there may be pet projects that many with think are ridiculous…but there are those that disagree and they tend to be those that voted for the legislator that proposed the earmarks in the first place (with all of those exceptions of people like me that matter more than voters because I have deep pockets).

In that regard, I’m Not A Crook, is 100% correct.

Movingly along, the definition of the word earmark is broader than most realize. A while back there were some threads posted on earmarks that were rather well written. I believe Chuck wrote the one I am referring to…and if not I apologize for confusing Chuck with the far more intelligent person that wrote this…Any line item that specifies a spending project is an earmark. The less discretion a legislature allows the executive agencies it funds to spend their own money…the more earmarks. I can eliminate every earmark in every budget if you allow me to simply allocate state agencies to operate entirely on discretionary spending.

shep1975 February 3, 2011 at 12:24 pm

An extraordinarily well written point and post. Thanks GC.

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