… I think he’s doing the right thing, here:

Chaffetz won’t earmark road funds, gives state cash – Salt Lake Tribune

Washington » Rep. Jason Chaffetz plans to punt about $15 million to the Utah Department of Transportation instead of earmarking it himself, saying merit — not politics — should determine what roads get built with federal cash.

The move is rare for a House member and a first for a Utah congressman.

“I don’t need to have all of the control. In fact, I don’t want it,” said Chaffetz, a Republican who railed against earmarks when he ran for office and who has refused to ask for one since joining the House in January.

Congress is expected to pass a new transportation bill later this year that would give every member of the House a pot of money to spend on “high priority projects” in their areas. Federal lawmakers have until May 8 to submit their pet projects and a transportation subcommittee is holding a hearing today to discuss these earmarks.

It’s common for cities and counties to make direct pitches to members of Congress for the funds. But Chaffetz said it makes more sense to allow transportation officials to determine what the biggest needs are.

Now, some people in the blogosphere are jumping all over Chaffetz for going back on his word about earmarks, stating that this is, in fact, one of those earmarks that he’s against.

But I disagree.

According to the Office of Management and Budget an earmark is defined as follows:

OMB defines earmarks as funds provided by the Congress for projects or programs where the congressional direction (in bill or report language) circumvents Executive Branch merit-based or competitive allocation processes, or specifies the location or recipient, or otherwise curtails the ability of the Executive Branch to manage critical aspects of the funds allocation process.

  • Earmarks vs. Unrequested Funding. At the broadest level, unrequested funding is any additional funding provided by the Congress — in either bill or report language — for activities/projects/programs not requested by the Administration. Earmarks are a subset of unrequested funding. The distinction between earmarks and unrequested funding is programmatic control or lack thereof of in the allocation process.
  • Earmarks and Programmatic “Control.” If the congressional direction accompanying a project/program/funding in an appropriations bill or report or other communication purports to affect the ability of the Administration to control critical aspects of the awards process for the project/program/funding, this IS an earmark.

    Note: The definition of “control critical aspects” includes specification of the location or recipient or otherwise circumventing the merit-based or competitive allocation process and may be program specific. However, if the Congress adds funding and the Administration retains control over the awards process for the project/program/funding, it is NOT an earmark; it is unrequested funding.

  • Earmarks Include:

    1. Add-ons. If the Administration asks for $100 million for formula grants, for example, and Congress provides $110 million and places restrictions (such as site-specific locations) on the additional $10 million, the additional $10 million is counted as an earmark.
    2. Carve-outs. If the Administration asks for $100 million and Congress provides $100 million but places restrictions on some portion of the funding, the restricted portion is counted as an earmark.
    3. Funding provisions that do not name a recipient, but are so specific that only one recipient can qualify for funding.

Source Earmark Definition.

Normally, the way the process works is this. Congress and the Department of Transportation work together to come up with an appropriations bill. Each state and each district within that state are allotted a certain amount of funds for projects within the district.

Cities and counties within the district then lobby their representative to try to get certain specific projects funded with these Federal dollars. This is the earmark process.

What Chaffetz is doing is saying, “I’m not going to participate in the earmark process; I’m going to let the Utah Department of Transportation decide what the best projects in my district are.” Since these Federal dollars will most likely be used to fund the widening of I-15 in Utah County (a project that is already budgeted with state dollars), this will most likely have the effect of freeing up $15-million in state funds that can be used for other projects anywhere in the state, not just in the Utah 3rd.

And personally, I think this is the right thing to do …

But some in the local progressive community are using this opportunity to essentially call Chaffetz a hypocrite, by over simplifying and stating that any money coming to the Utah 3rd through this process is an earmark. To me, this is a prime example of what Sarah Palin (another person who scares the crap out of me) calls “Gotcha” politics. People are looking for any reason to call out a politician with whom they disagree and will point to the smallest of issues to say “Gotcha! I knew you were a hypocrite!”; except it doesn’t fly in this particular case.

Representative Chaffetz: you still scare the crap out me … and I still disagree with 99% of your views. But you are doing the right thing on THIS particular issue; something I doubt that Jim Matheson (Democratic Representative in the Utah 2nd) will do as well.