Friday, October 03, 2008

Fun With Earmarks: Alaska vs. Illinois

A few weeks ago, Mike Flannery at CBS 2 did a "Truth in Politics" segment called "Palin and Alaska's Earmarks". In that segment, he compared Alaska's dip into the federal trough to that of Illinois:

Compared to us here in Illinois, Alaska's had spectacular success at winning federal tax money.

CBS 2 Political Editor Mike Flannery reports Gov. Palin and her Alaskan colleagues in Congress have been extremely successful in getting earmarks. They grabbed federal tax money equivalent to $506.34 for every resident, making Alaska far and away number one in the category.

The $30.11 per resident the feds sent to Illinois makes us number 37.
Got that? They grabbed federal tax money. The report went on to show us collapsing infrastructure and rickety bridges, evidently proving how poor we are in the federal earmark department.

Here in Illinois, by contrast, we can't even afford to repair bridges that very definitely go somewhere. Take the 55-year old structure that carries the Eisenhower Expressway across the Chicago River and into the South Loop. While not yet unsafe, one study several years ago found it in worse shape than the Interstate 35 bridge in Minnesota that collapsed into the Mississippi River.
We can all see what's implied. Poor Illinois, victimized by that dastardly Palin. Flannery didn't disclose his sources for dollar amounts, population numbers, or time frame. Do you have an internal baloney-meter? I'm guessing you do. Despite the absence of source detail, and the obvious blame-Palin angle, mine pegged when he said this:

". . . $506.34 for every resident."

For every resident? We all know an ailing tree frog is far more likely to "grab" an earmark than any human resident, Alaskan or otherwise. But, just for fun, let's get into the "Truth in Politics" spirit. We'll take a look at some numbers from readily available sources, and see where some Flannery-style calculations take us. According to the U.S. Census Data Finder:

Population of Alaska (2007): 683,478
Population of Illinois (2007): 12,852,548

The 2007 population of Illinois is about 18 times greater than that of Alaska. The OMB (Office of Management and Budget) has an "Earmarks" page, where information is available for 2005, 2008 (partial), and estimates for 2009. We'll look at 2008, by state. The top earmark grabbers are:

California, 554 earmarks, $460,667,000

Minnesota, 96 earmarks, $362,356,000

Texas, 299 earmarks, $344,137,000

Pennsylvania, 445 earmarks, $343,273,000

Mississippi, 172 earmarks, $331,503,000

Illinois, 252 earmarks, $286,470,000

Illinois is number 6. Alaska? Number 19, at 119 earmarks, $154,865,000, slightly more than half that of Illinois. So if the population of Alaska is 683,478, that's $226.58 per person, and a miserable $22.28 for each resident of Illinois. Dreadful. Poor Illinois. But it seems the 2008 data was not the source Flannery's calculations, unless he found a more current source, or extrapolated the 2008 data. (Remember, the 2008 data are not complete.)

The 2005 numbers from the OMB are complete. The top 6 are:

California, 1,073 earmarks, $1,634,056,000

Pennsylvania, 973 earmarks, $1,079,735,000

Virginia, 702 earmarks, $940,346,000

Texas, 485 earmarks, $772,030,000

Florida, 545 earmarks, $717,892,000

Alaska, 353 earmarks, $690,639,000

Illinois was number 12 (397 earmarks, $471,279,000, 36.92 per resident). And, in 2005, Alaska got $1040.65 "per person" in earmarks. But Mr. Flannery's calculations gave us a presumably current number of $506.34 per person, which of course means that Alaska's per person share has been cut in half since 2005. (Who, I wonder, did that?) He no doubt overlooked this when he gave us "Truth in Politics: Palin and Alaska's Earmarks" on September 10, 2008. (Speaking of overlooked facts, did you know that the District of Columbia gets its own earmarks? The population of Washington, DC in 2005 was about 580,000 souls, and they got $65,925,000 in earmarks in that year. That's $112.58 per person - about three times more than Illinois.)

There are lots of ways to play with these numbers. For example, from the U. S. Census Bureau "Quick Facts" we learn that the land area for Illinois is 55,583 square miles. Alaska: has 571,951. Using the 2005 earmark figures, that's $1207.14 per square mile for Alaska, $8478.83 per square mile for Illinois. Think that'll help poor ol' Illinois with that crumbling infrastructure?

Or, we might want to take a look at an earmarks per organism slant. Earmark recipients include the Olive Fruit Fly in California, Asian Long Horned Beetle in Illinois, South Dakota blackbirds, North Dakota blackbirds, North Carolina beavers, Michigan cormorants and the brown tree snake. Add that to Virginia coyote predation, the activities of the Mormor cricket in Nevada, and Hydrilla eradication in Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia. There's the Mojave Water Agency's non-native plant removal, sudden oak death in California, maple research in Vermont, and asparagus technology and production in Washington. And lest we forget, there's the meadow foam and molluscan shellfish in Oregon. Why don't we ask how many dollars per mollusk? Per asparagus stalk? Per cricket? Because it's unrealistic, deceiving, and silly.

I suspect that a portion of this federal manna may be more important than it seems (especially when I deliberately group earmarks to emphasize the critter-factor). Granted, many are shockingly stupid. But some may be a good idea - like tick borne disease prevention (RI), medicinal and bioactive crops (TX), seafood safety (MA). But one thing is certain: all can be used to grind someone's political axe. And here's a "truth": Illinois has some axe-swinging political organisms of its own who would love to blame our crumbling bridges, corruption, waste and failure on anyone else - including Alaska's Governor Palin.

(You can get your own state's U.S. Census Bureau "quick facts" here, browse earmarks here, use the Census Fact Finder here.)

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