Friday, May 29, 2009

One-and-a-half cheers for Idaho earmarks

Politicians often change their minds after discovering they are sailing against stronger winds of public opinion and practical needs.

So it is that Idaho U.S. Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch have done a 180 on funding earmarks from Washington.

They originally voted against President Obama's stimulus bill to show their conservative colors, but then hurriedly requested nearly $2 billion in earmarks for Idaho projects rather than see the funds diverted elsewhere.

Their change of heart deserves a cheer. However, their list of targeted recipients is less praiseworthy.

At a time when jobs are needed and investment in capital programs is essential, the $900,000 for an Owyhee County cultural resource education project, $150,000 to train at-risk youths in food-industry skills, and $500,000 to expand exhibits at the Discovery Center of Idaho are simply too esoteric and should be the responsibility of nonprofits or the state Legislature.

The heftiest allotment—$1.1 billion—to the Idaho National Laboratory for its work in the nuclear field would provide a measurable economic transfusion for the eastern Idaho region.

Extending a geothermal system at Boise State University is $1 million wisely invested in energy. Ditto for two buildings costing $44 million at Mountain Home Air Force Base, as well as $36 million in job-creating work on Interstate 84 in Boise.

Yet, Idaho's crumbling roadways and its shamefully neglected schools should have been high on the Crapo-Risch list.

Better, however, that Crapo and Risch abandoned their silly opposition to the stimulus and recognized that earmarks are useful tools during a state's economic stress.

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