A conservative group is calling out lawmakers who they say tucked about $35 million in spending for specific local projects and causes into the state budget’s dense fiscal code.
It’s a practice that, in various forms, has a long history in Pennsylvania and around the country.
At one time, lawmakers reserved cash for constituent causes through WAMs—or Walking Around Money—shoehorned into the main state budget.
But WAMs have been officially phased out, under scrutiny for being too secretive.
Now, earmarks accomplish a similar thing. Nestled into the fiscal code, they’re often worded like riddles.
One of this year’s puts $900,000 toward a “community college in a county of the fourth class with a population of at least 175,000, but not more than 190,000.”
The right-leaning Commonwealth Foundation, which has made fighting earmarks one of its causes, pegged that as Butler County Community College in a news release.
Director Nathan Benefield said lawmakers should certainly lobby for their constituents. But not like this.
“We have a constitutional restriction on giving funds for one entity that is outside state government,” he said. “This is really just trying to get around that constitutional barrier.”
Earmarks are banned in federal budgets, though many complain the practice still continues in various forms.
In Harrisburg, some say the practice is also falling out of favor. From last year’s budget to this year’s, earmarked cash fell by $30 million.
House GOP Spokesman Steve Miskin said while some of the most recent earmarks probably did come from lawmakers in his caucus, they’ve been trying to scale back.
Senators and staff have previously defended earmarks. They didn’t respond to a request for comment.