Appropriations payments embrace $272 million in increased schooling earmarks

The House Appropriations Committee has approved more than $ 272 million in funds through commitments that would go to projects at 228 colleges and universities, according to an analysis conducted by Inside Higher Ed.

The budget commitments include seven of the 12 bills that the Budget Committee has submitted to fund federal ministries and agencies for the 2022 budget year (the other five bills either have no budget commitments at all or have no relation to higher education). Nearly $ 186 million of the earmarked funding is part of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Allied Agencies Bill that was approved by the committee last week and sets the initial Congressional funding for higher education.

Special ear tags for higher education institutions are also included in the bills for agriculture, rural development, the Food and Drug Administration and associated agencies; Commerce, Justice, Science and Allied Authorities; Financial services and government; Homeland security; Ministry of the Interior, Environment and Related Authorities; and transport and housing and urban development.

After a 10-year moratorium, the Democratic leadership of the House and Senate Budget Committees announced earlier this year that they would be accepting legislative proposals for “funding of community projects” in the House of Representatives and “congressional spending” in the Senate. They also introduced several reforms to curb the abuse that led to the demise of earmarked spending: all applications must be available online, along with a disclosure that the legislature has no financial interest in the project; the total financing is limited to a maximum of 1% of the freely available expenditure; and for-profit entities cannot receive any of the funds.

One argument in favor of earmarking is that it is intended to promote non-partisanship. If members have an interest in the legislation because it contains funds that would benefit their constituents directly, it is more likely that it will be supported by both Democrats and Republicans.

In total, applications to colleges and universities in the approved bills came from 178 members – 126 Democrats and 52 Republicans. Fifty-six members had accepted more than one of their motions, with Democratic Representatives James Clyburn of South Carolina, Lloyd Doggett of Texas, and Colin Allred of Texas each making four institutional motions as part of the bill.

That doesn’t mean the law guarantees Republican votes, though, said Jonathan Fansmith, director of government relations for the American Council on Education. The 25 votes against the Labor, HHS, and Education Act on the Budget Committee were all Republicans, even though 43 Republicans were scheduled to attend colleges and universities.

“It looks like a lot of Republicans are ready to apply for project funding, but they won’t necessarily take the vote,” said Fansmith.

There are different funding applications for colleges and universities in terms of location, costs, type of project and type of institution. By far the most expensive endowment for an institution across the seven bills is $ 20 million for the University of Nebraska at Lincoln to help build and operate a National Center for Resilient and Regenerative Precision Agriculture. The motion was made by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, a Republican from Nebraska, and is part of the Agriculture Act.

This level of project funding is an outlier – the median amount allocated to institutions through the earmarking process is $ 900,000. North Carolina State University would get $ 350,000 for computer science professional development, Salt Lake Community College would get $ 500,000 for an on-campus internship program, Baylor University would get $ 1 million for a cybersecurity initiative and the Purchase of information technology received and Benedict College would receive $ 2 million for staff development.

“That’s not a lot of money,” said Fansmith. “It’s not necessarily large sums of money, even within an institution’s operating budget, but it’s money that institutions couldn’t raise otherwise to serve their communities, support their students, and expand their offering.”

Many of the projects relate to facility and equipment modernization, curriculum and program development, and staff initiatives. Proposed projects include an entrepreneurship program and center at Harris-Stowe State University, an aviation program at Cape Cod Community College, a basic needs project at Los Angeles City College, a prison education program at New York University, and mental health services at Georgia State University (for a full list of community project funding elements in the Labor, HHS, and Education Act, see here).

Fansmith said he thought the holdings for institutions that made it into the bills were sensible and an admirable set of projects. However, Matthew Dickerson, director of the federal budget center at the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation, questioned whether the earmarking process is the best way to develop such programs.

“It’s just not fair or efficient to take taxes from one community to be redistributed elsewhere by DC politicians,” said Dickerson. “Instead of financing church special interest projects with limited effect, the federal government should focus its attention on genuinely national priorities and at the same time dismantle investment barriers from the private sector and the state and local administrations.”

None of the commitments are nearing completion – the budget laws have yet to pass both houses of Congress and be signed by President Biden. But maybe the process has already achieved what the return of the ear tags should do in part.

“At least they created an opportunity for both parties to participate in the outcome of these bills, which is only for the better,” said Fansmith.


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