So Democrats have promised not to attach dreaded earmarks to Obama’s stimulus plans. This means that instead of having elected legislators decide how the stimulus money should be spent, those decisions will be made by unelected bureaucrats. We guess the pet projects of wonks at federal agencies are somehow regarded as better than the pet projects of lawmakers.
Fine. Whatever. Not a big deal. If you buy the Keynesian argument about government stimulus, the important thing is that the money gets spent rather than who spends it or precisely how it is spent.
But what is really entertainingly odd about the stimulus bill is that it prohibits certain projects. The money can’t be spent on casinos, swimming pools, golf courses, aquariums or zoos. The golf course prohibition seems particularly obnoxious. Millions of Americans really like playing golf, and we’d guess that golfers tend to contribute a disproportionate percentage of the tax base from which the stimulus money will be drawn. Maybe the Obama administration doesn’t think we can afford having productive Americans wasting their time playing golf.
Tim Carney, my brother, points out the weirdness in his latest Heckonomics article:
But the bill currently doesn’t have earmarks in it. That means individual projects like this bridge or that museum are not specified to receive stimulus money — those decisions will be left up the agencies and cabinet departments. So, when you hear about specific projects, like the Mob Museum in Las Vegas, those are merely requests submitted by mayors to the Obama transition team. House Democrats have said they will not stick earmarks into the bill, but until we see a final version, we won’t know if they live up to this pledge.
The restrictions within the bill are interesting. The only broad restriction covering the entire bill is that “None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available in this Act may be used for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, or swimming pool.” You got it, a city or federal agency can use this money for a jungle gym but not a swimming pool, a croquet court but not a golf course, a football stadium but not a casino, a museum full of dead lions and fish but not a zoo full of live ones. Everyone knows aquaria are utterly unstimulating, or something.
An interesting restriction on how states can use the money seems to cut against the whole building-stuff-is-good-for-the-economy tone of the Democrats’ stimulus talk. If a state dedicates stimulus money to state universities, the bill prohibits the state from using the money to increase its endowment or for “construction, renovation, or facility repair.”