Republican Dino Rossi’s latest television commercial repeats an objection to certain types of federal spending known as earmarks that has become a hallmark of his campaign against incumbent U.S. Sen. Patty Murray.
That seems odd, state Sen. Lisa Brown, a Spokane Democrat, argued Thursday. When Rossi oversaw the state’s budget as a member and eventually chairman of the state Senate Ways and Means Committee, it had the legislative equivalent of earmarks and he didn’t object.
“He’s attacking Sen. Murray for a process that’s very similar to what we do in Olympia,” Brown said.
But there’s a difference between federal earmarks and state spending, Rossi’s campaign countered Thursday. The state’s budget by law must be balanced; the federal budget doesn’t, and isn’t.
“All of these earmarks add up, they all add to the deficit,” Jennifer Morris, a Rossi spokeswoman said. Until the federal budget is balanced, Rossi has vowed to swear off earmarks.
“He’s said if the project is worth doing, it’s worth doing through the normal budgeting process,” Morris said.
Murray defends the process of earmarking funds – essentially requiring that a portion of money set aside for a general program be spent in a specific place. As long as they are fully reviewed by staff, members of Congress know more about a community’s needs than a bureaucrat in Washington, D.C., she said.
But that means Congress may not vote on spending money for that particular earmark, just on a comprehensive bill, Rossi argues.
Brown, who is now the state Senate majority leader, was previously a member of the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee and its chairwoman before Rossi was. It is common, regardless of what party is in power, for legislators to request funding for special community projects that aren’t of statewide significance, she said, for everything from a Spokane program to help homeless teens or a southwest Washington program to improve oyster beds.
The budgeting processes of the two legislative bodies are not exactly the same. But Brown thinks that the ability for elected officials to come up with money for local projects are similar enough that Rossi could have raised objections years ago. “If he has a principled disagreement with this process it would have shown up when he was chairman.”