The big story of the day is S.160 (District Voting Rights) passing the Senate. In some ways though, the victory is bittersweet. Thanks to an amendment by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), district residents face the irony of standing one step closer to being treated like all other Americans while simultaneously having a decision of their own government overturned by Congress.
1. The first earmark of note is Sen. Lisa Murkowski's (R-Alaska) request of $500,000 so the University of Alaska can conduct "advanced submarine surveys to establish new U.S. claims for seabed resources." Oil perhaps? There's nothing wrong with this earmark, as far as we can tell, but it's interesting in that it's a sneaky entrance into a North Pole resource fight. As some of you might remember, Russia planted a flag underwater in the Arctic Ocean not too long ago in an attempt to claim the North Pole. Canada has made some noise on the subject, and it's interesting to see the United States attempting to expand its claims in the oil-rich region.
2. The second is Rep. Bart Stupak's (D-Mich.) earmark of $45,000 to the Chippewa County Sheriff's Department "for purchase of a SeaBotix remotely operated vehicle." As best we could tell from reviewing Chippewa County Board of Commissioners meeting minutes, the remotely operated submarine will "aid with safer diving conditions for the Sheriff’s Department." To be completely fair, Chippewa County borders Lake Superior, so occasionally, search and rescue missions may take them below the surface.
3. Our third earmark of the day is former (he lost his re-election bid in 2008) Rep. Joe Knollenberg's (R-Mich.) appropriation of $305,000 to the city of Rochester Hills for the "School Zone Radar Speed Signs Project." It doesn't sound particularly egregious until you realize that Rochester Hills is a town of about 70,000 just outside of Detroit that has about 30 schools. And the median family income, according to the 2000 census, is over $100,000 a year. How much do these speed signs cost anyway? With the size of that earmark, that means there is about $10,000 per school.
4. Our fourth earmark, which is actually a pair of earmarks, is proof that its good to have the Senate's senior-most man as your senator. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va) has been serving longer than several of his colleagues have been alive, and it translates to some serious earmarking power. In this bill, he directed $5 million to Marshall University "for a highly advanced state-of-the-art DNA laboratory" and another $4 million to West Virginia University "to support a forensic science initiative." By way of comparison, most earmarks in this bill were less than $1 million, and by our count, none exceeded $3 million except for Byrd's.
5. Democratic leadership cannot get a break at ICT, can it? Our fifth earmark of note belongs to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). He allocated $400,000 to the City of Las Vegas "for copper wire theft prevention efforts." Copper wire theft was no laughing matter — for a while, there was a plague of thieves looking to cash in on the soaring price of metals by ripping out the wires of air conditioning units and the water pipes of houses. But with the collapse of the housing market, the price of copper has halved in the last six months alone. Is the theft of copper such a problem any more?
6. And we close with another head-scratcher. Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama earmarked $1.5 million to Auburn University "for research." We're not making this up … look at the excerpt from the report below.
At first, we were stumped. Senators, unlike representatives, do not have their earmark request certification letters available on the appropriations committee Web site. But after a few phone calls and talking to a helpful Shelby staffer by the name of Jonathan Graffeo, we received the following statement:
Center for Aquatic Resource Management
This Center creates a partnership between Auburn University and state and federal agencies to develop and implement sustainable practices to protect and restore Alabama’s aquatic resources. Funded in previous years to develop the Center, this year’s funding will allow Auburn University to complete construction of the facility. Tools developed in the Center will be used throughout the Southeast and abroad to manage other aquatic resource problems.
“Aquaculture and recreational fisheries contribute $1.5 billion to Alabama’s economy,” said Shelby. “As demands on our water resources grow, it is critical that we have a solid understanding of our aquaculture, fisheries management, water quality management, and the ability to work with endangered aquatic species. This research will be integral to sustaining and maximizing the use of our natural resources.”
So there you have it. It's a benign earmark, we think. But it sure took some digging to find that out!
That concludes our batch of earmarks for today, but fear not! There will be more coming soon. Have you found any interesting earmarks of your own? Tell us what you think.