By Erin Randall
Earmarks. Love them or hate them, this form of spending is a staple in the legislative process. The most common example of malfeasance- the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere”- is admittedly a disgrace of political pandering and misused funds. The counterexamples of community centers, training, mental health services, 911 call centers, and so much more are, however, not as pronounced. While more frequently maligned than not, earmarks can be a positive force for local government short on financial resources.
Despite ongoing debate amongst political factions, earmarks are alive and well. Even with the Republican-backed voluntary two-year ban that went into effect in 2010, earmark spending has changed little with almost $300 million in special interested funding in 2012. In the last year, numerous conservatives have publically re-boarded the earmark bandwagon. That being the case, how can you and your agency take advantage?
First and foremost in securing an earmark is relationship-building. Get to know your state’s elected representative(s). Most representatives have a designated staff member to manage funding requests. Contact their office and ask for more information related funding assistance. Send a memo, email, and/or letter explaining who you are and why you need funding along with what efforts you’ve made to secure funding previously (i.e., budget requests, grants, etc.). Maintain regular contact in regards to your need for funding along with talking points about why your project should be selected for an earmark. Keep in mind that you have to make this mutually beneficial. Are you in a district that offers partisan advantage in upcoming election(s)? Do you have a large population served? How will you advertise the earmark to the community if it is received?
Exploring this path is by no means a guarantee your representative(s) will agree to help. Regardless, it is one more avenue to secure funding that should not be left untraveled. The old adage “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” certainly applies in this case- diversify your funding sources to provide your agency the best chance possible to implement all those needed upgrades, new equipment, personnel, etc.