- The Washington Times - Monday, March 22, 2010

HONOLULU | Scores of private companies, nonprofit groups and state agencies this year will divvy up more than $412 million in earmarked federal funds that were designated by one or more of Hawaii’s four members of Congress.

That’s $318 for every Hawaii resident, the largest per capita amount in the nation, according to the watchdog group, Taxpayers for Common Sense.

But that largesse may shrink considerably in coming years if new earmarking policies recently enacted by the House Democratic and Republican caucuses come to fruition.

House Democrats announced they will no longer sponsor earmarks for for-profit firms - a category that this year accounted for about 1,000 earmarks worth $1.7 billion. House Republicans upped the ante by saying they will initiate no earmarks whatsoever - though only for fiscal 2011 appropriations bills.

However, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Democrat Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii, and other influential senators have criticized the House reforms. Mr. Inouye and U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, Hawaii Democrat, last Tuesday voted to kill a Senate proposal to bar earmarks next year.

“If the Senate doesn’t play ball, it’ll have virtually no effect on Hawaii because the earmarks that are obtained by the state are almost purely driven by Sen. Inouye,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

But if Congress ends up significantly curtailing earmarks, the state could see a lot less money flowing in, particularly for military contractors, said Jim Tollefson, who heads the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii.

“We want to see the cost of government come down,” he said. “However, earmarks have been very good for Hawaii and any reduction in earmarks will be detrimental to the economy, especially in this period of economic upheaval.”

Others contend it’s time Hawaii weaned itself off earmarks.

“We’ve grown too reliant on federal money in general,” said Jamie Story, president of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, a Honolulu think tank. The House reforms are “a victory for taxpayers because we pay for these earmarks ourselves. It’s not free money.”

Most of the spending earmarked for Hawaii in recent years was due to Mr. Inouye, who also chairs the defense appropriations subcommittee.

The $392 million in earmarks he sponsored or co-sponsored this year was the second-highest total in the Senate. He makes no apologies, casting earmarks as a result of spending authority the Constitution roots in the legislative branch.

“I don’t believe this policy or ceding authority to the executive branch on any spending decision is in the best interests of the Congress or the American people,” he said in a statement in response to the House Democrats’ decision.

He insisted his for-profit earmarks are all subject to competition, though his aides did not respond to queries about the process.

Mr. Inouye and Mr. Akaka declined comment.

In addition to the $412 million in Hawaii earmarks, the state will get another $359 million in other earmarks that were backed by the Obama administration and, in many cases, Hawaii lawmakers, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.

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