Friday, June 17, 2011

EDITORIAL >>Sen. Boozman and earmarks

If you have trouble balancing your checkbook, consider the plight of poor John Boozman. The new junior senator from Arkansas, who until 18 months ago was Arkansas’ foremost champion of pork-barrel spending, was over at Lonoke the other day explaining the difficulties of getting federal tax dollars for 1,200 big farms in east Arkansas. But not to fear, he said, it is going to happen.

Boozman, see, is flatly for the Bayou Meto Basin Project and wants the farmers to get that $350 million in U.S. taxpayers’ money that will be needed to build all the pumping stations, reservoirs, canals, pipelines, electrical substations and transmission lines to carry 13,000 gallons of water a second from the Arkansas River over to the farms in Jefferson, Prairie, Arkansas, Lonoke and Pulaski counties to irrigate the rice crops and fish ponds. The massive use of water for the rice plantations is rapidly depleting the aquifer that supplies water for the Grand Prairie and beyond.

Unlike the federal spending on projects in other senators’ and congressmen’s districts, this one is an excellent use of taxpayers’ money, Boozman told fans in the Bayou Meto Water Management District. It will create jobs and be of lasting economic benefit to the region, he said.

But the problem is, he said, that the U.S. government is deeply in debt and running a big deficit. Still, he hopes President Obama will include the next phase, $40 million or so, in his fiscal 2013 budget.

That is not likely to happen. Presidents Bush and Obama have not included projects like that in their budgets. They get added by members of Congress. Rep. Marion Berry, who retired last year (and underwent brain surgery last week), led the way, with help from Rep. Mike Ross of south Arkansas, and Sen. Blanche Lincoln, whom Boozman defeated, and Sen. Mark Pryor.

Boozman signed the Republican pledge last year not to take part in congressional earmarks like the Bayou Meter water project. So did East Arkansas’ new congressman, Rick Crawford. Boozman, Crawford and the Second District’s new congressman, Tim Griffin, aren’t likely to put their names on an earmark request for Bayou Meto or any other project, although they will certify their support for it to the people in the water district.

If the Grand Prairie farmers and conservationists don’t get their money, you see, it will be President Obama’s fault because he did not include it in his budget. Even at that, his budget will be roundly condemned by Boozman and his party because it is a massive waste of taxpayers’ money and runs up the nation’s debt. The only wise spending is for our stuff. In New Jersey, the Bayou Meto farmers’ irrigation project is the ultimate example of government profligacy.

We actually would like to see the government ante up money for the Bayou Meto project. It will help the principal farmers in the region prosper, and they will not have to shift to crops that are more economical but less remunerative. The benefits eventually will spread to all of us to some degree.

But it also is a matter of priorities. There is, indeed, not enough money for all that Americans want to do in all 50 states, and if Boozman’s party enjoys a national consensus that no one should pay more taxes, especially high-income businesses and individuals like the owners of the 1,200 farms, then all these Arkansas programs—the bypasses, bridges, airports and irrigation projects—should take their place in the pecking order, about a trillion and a half dollars down from the top. We are deeply afraid they won’t be in Obama’s or anyone’s budget. Either way, you know who will get the blame: the president with the Middle Eastern name.