Meteorological Earmarks and the U.S. Senate Race in Washington

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There has been a lot of talk in the U.S. Senate race in Washington State about earmarks, and I thought I might give my perspective based on some actual experience with them.
Patty Murray (Democrat)

If you had asked me a few years, I would have been against them, but my mind has changed, based partly on my experience with the coastal radar. I now believe that earmarks are a useful tool, if used sparingly and with judgment.

Dino Rossi (Republican)

Consider the coastal radar that will be installed next September on the central Washington coast. Without earmarks this extraordinarily important device, one that will save lives and greatly enhance our lives, would not have happened.

A classic argument against earmarks is that all appropriations should go through the normal process, with budget requests from agencies vetted by congressional committees. Sound good. But for over a decade many of us tried to go this route in pushing for the coastal radar. The case was compelling but some folks in the National Weather Service opposed it and letters from Congressmen and Senators fell on deaf ears.

Nothing happened until the big storm in December 2007, after which Senator Maria Cantwell took a personal interest in the project after listening to her constituents in coastal Washington. Senator Maria Cantwell

Subsequently, with the aid of Senator Murray, Senator Cantwell was able to secure an EARMARK for the first two million dollars for the radar acquisition. And the rest is history. Next September we will be able to see, for the first time, the structure of approaching weather systems from off the Pacific. The folks in Gray's Harbor County and surrounding areas will be able to plan their lives with the guidance of the radar. Fishers and marine interests will have the protection of the radar while they do their work. And this would not have have occurred without the intervention of our U.S. Senators.

My conclusion. Washington D.C. bureaucracies sometimes don't have a good understanding what is happening and needed out in the field, in communities hundreds or thousands of miles away. Our Senators and Congressmen/women have an intimate acquaintance with their area and know where the acute needs that slipped through the cracks. Therefore, we need earmarks.

Yes, I know there have been some abuses and some earmarks have been problematic. But my reading through the earmark lists suggests that the majority of them are well-intentioned attempts to fix problems or to deal with issues that the government bureaucracy missed.

It seems entirely appropriate that a few percent of the U.S. budget should go to earmarks. Perhaps there are reforms that could make this fairer, such as insuring that all states get an equal shot based on their populations, irrespective of whether their congressional folks are well positioned on critical committees or in leadership positions. But a flat rejection of earmarks does not seem reasonable and from my perspective earmarks were absolutely critical in securing a critically needed piece of meteorological hardware for our state.

Forecast Update: The Sunday storm looks similar to what we expect last night. Strong winds over the ocean and right along the coast. Not much over Puget Sound during the day on Sunday, but it will blow to the north of the Strait of Georgia and the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca.

UW Dawg Dash:

At 9:30 AM on Sunday the UW Dawg Dash will take place (fun run to support scholarships and other good works) and I have been asked to be the official starter ( I believe the idea is that a meteorologist might placate the rain gods with some sort of professional incantation. At this point I have been unsuccessful--the latest model runs show showers that morning around that time. Perhaps some incense will help.

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