by Paige Terryberry
Senior Analyst for Fiscal Policy, John Locke Foundation
Even in the bastion of duplicity, representatives in Washington D.C. must attach their names to their pork spending projects in a piece of legislation, a bare minimum for transparency’s sake.
In North Carolina, we must demand similar transparency.
Fortunately, in the North Carolina General Assembly, recently-retired Representative Verla Insko, (D-Orange) understood this. And John Locke Foundation’s President, Donald Bryson, has long praised what he calls “the Insko Rule.”
In 2017, Insko introduced H.B. 83 which would have required disclosure for pork spending: “Every special provision contained in the Current Operations Appropriations Act shall indicate the name of the member or members who requested the provision.” Last week, The Carolina Journal reported that Representative Terrence Everitt (D-Wake) introduced H.B. 1027 to identify legislators who request special provisions.
Steering state funding to localities or special projects via earmarks in the state budget is inappropriate. It undermines local authorities, agency grant processes, and private competition. Furthermore, it often compels statewide taxpayers to pay for a project that should be funded locally – if at all.
At a minimum, legislators should be held accountable. In addition to taking responsibility nominally for their pork, the data must be publicly available and easily searchable. Other safeguards could include capping the total dollar amounts each legislator can request, limiting types of eligible recipients, disclosing any conflicts of interest, and ensuring projects are noted with specific detail so taxpayers are acutely aware of exactly what their dollars are funding.
Although the process was far from user-friendly, last year I was able to match pork spending with the requesting U.S. Congressional member for a spending omnibus last year. At the state level, this step to transparency would be easier to implement. Transparency makes for better policy.
The recent state budget, passed in November, was loaded with pages of pork with no accountability.
Pork spending projects may be well intentioned. Yet government grows out of control when strict limits are not placed on restricting expenditures to legitimate, core functions.
If members of the General Assembly truly believe their projects should be included in the budget bill, they should not shy away from taking responsibility for them by name.