Stick It In Your Earmark, or: You Don't Have to Look Far To See When Good Money Goes Bad

Not to be cranky or anything, but it's really irritating to read all this crap about congressional earmarks and realize nobody knows what the hell they're talking about. Stories in both The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times today paint the whole debate on earmarks in typical who's-on-first inside-baseball terms (all you get from journalism anymore) having to do with Tea Partiers vs. RINOs and Congress vs. the White House.

No, no, no. We have two great examples right here providing clear windows on what earmarks are really all about. Earmarks have to do with putting money into projects that don't meet the law. An earmark is a political end-run around regulation.

Every time you've got some guy in a striped blazer and straw boater out front of the tent bloviating about Washington bureaucrats and red tape, you can bet that inside that tent there's a big old fat real estate developer or some other private interest drooling to get his hands on tax money boodle that he doesn't deserve.

Why do you think we've spent tens of years and tens of millions of dollars on a toll road on top of the river instead of spending that time and money fixing our levees? The Trinity River toll road has been funded almost entirely so far with earmarks, because it can't be funded with federal highway money according to federal law. Why? Simple.

It's a bad road. Federal law says you can't spend tax money on a road unless it achieves "congestion mitigation." That is, tons of people will drive on it instead of other over-crowded roads, so it will reduce congestion on those other roads. The lie about the toll road has always been that it will be an important "reliever route," but all of the traffic studies show it won't relieve nuthin' because hardly anybody wants to go that way.

What is it really? It's a rich white people's road into and out of West Dallas and the Trinity Industrial District, so people who own land there can develop condo and office towers for the roll-up-the-car-windows-and-lock-the-doors crowd.

Second window: the second downtown rail alignment. Federal law says you can't spend federal money on rail unless the rail goes where it will be most efficient - that is, pick up the most passengers at the least construction cost.

But the local mucks in Dallas want the second line to be the least efficient and most expensive choice, the Decherd Line, which will will pick up the fewest passengers but run right through a bunch of real estate owned by The Dallas Morning News.

No wonder journalists want to report the news like it's fantasy baseball, eh? Much less career-threatening than telling the truth.

That all gets done with earmarks. An earmark is what happens when somebody calls up Kay Bailey Hutchison and says, "Hey, Kay, we want to build an illegal rail line with tax money to make ourselves rich. Stick a deal on a defense bill for us, willya?"

Ask yourself this: what is "regulation," anyway? It's law. It's law that our elected representatives crafted in order, we hope, to make things fair and keep the playing field square. Earmarks are inside deals, fixer deals, backroom deals.

The battle is not between Obama and Congress. The Teapers have one part right: It's between voters and insiders. The thing the Teapers don't get at all is that the law - including federal regulation - is the peoples' best defense. It ain't perfect. But we've got a hell of a better chance dealing with the law than we do with that son of a bitch in the tent.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze

Latest Stories