January 26, 2007
Earmark is not a dirty word. It is another name for funding requests that are attached to bills in the U.S. Congress. Earmarks have received a lot of bad press, some of which is rightfully deserved, for things such as the legendary bridge to nowhere in Alaska, but some earmarks are good. And what is the alternative? The alternative is that we allow bureaucrats to make the decisions on how money is spent, cutting lawmakers and Congress out of the process. Unfortunately, this year it looks as if the bureaucrats have won.
Last year I was proud to announce a $750,000 funding request for noise mitigation in and around Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) was included in the Transportation Appropriations Bill for 2007. It was the very first time a Member of Congress from the Houston area requested that money be allocated directly and specifically for the IAH residential acquisition and sound insulation program. Now new House leadership has put those funds in limbo.
I have worked closely with local, state and federal representatives since 2003 to address the airport noise issue. One of the first actions I took upon election to Congress was to establish an Airport Noise Task Force made up of representatives from the FAA, area chambers of commerce, National Air Traffic Controllers Association, Continental Airlines, Houston Airport System, local officials, homeowners from noise impacted areas, CHARGE and the West 45 Noise Group. The Airport Noise Task Force meetings were the first time all stakeholders came together around the same table to work towards solutions. While the $750,000 earmark was much less than we wanted from the federal appropriators and not near enough for all the noise mitigation that needs to be done, it was a good start and the first in what we hoped would be a series of funding victories.
Now it feels as if the rug has been pulled out from under us. The new House leadership has cancelled all earmarks for 2007. Unfortunately, they can do that. In our federal governments committee-based legislature system the majority party has this type of authority. The new leadership and appropriations committee chairs have decided they are going to extend the same amount of funding that was given to agencies last year, but that they will not honor any earmarks that were attached to the billsthis includes our noise mitigation funding. When money is appropriated to agencies this wayin a lump sum instead of with instructions on how the money should be spentbureaucrats at those agencies end up making the decisions on how the money is spent instead of Congress.
I am greatly disappointed we have to go back to the drawing board for this funding, but I will not let it stop our progress. I will continue to let Washington D.C know that we have a problem here in Houston and that by cancelling this funding they are impacting our neighborhoods and our families. I remain dedicated, as I have always been, to facilitating the communication among all parties that are impacted by airport noise. I will continue to host meetings, pursue efforts to reach an amicable solution and request funding from the Washington appropriators.
Earmarks should be transparentall Americans should be able to see which requests are made and which are honored. But they should not be outlawed. We could simplify this process by requiring up or down votes on earmarks in the House of Representatives on each bill instead of lumping them all together in back room deals. We should not take away Representatives authority to request earmarks on behalf of their districts. If officials are out in the community and listening to their constituents, they know best what the needs are. Not a bunch of bureaucrats at agencies in Washington.
Elected in 2004, Congressman Poe represents the Second Congressional District. He serves on the House Transportation Committee, Aviation Subcommittee and established the Airport Noise Task Force during his first year in Congress.