Economic stimulus and recovery plan; $720 billion. Foreclosure bailout plan; $75 million. Conversations about what’s going on; priceless!

Public discourse regarding the economy mostly resembles the insanity of a reality show; and we’re not just talking about the average citizen. Did anyone watch the Jim Cramer on the Today Show Tuesday? He has been incredibly wrong so many times yet he’s still got a show.

While it’s easy to take potshots at celebrity analysts and other folks on TV and radio it bears mentioning that they do have an impact on how people perceive the problems we face. Whether Rick Santelli is ranting, or Larry Kudlow is raving, or Michael Steele is apologizing….oops…that just slipped in, the fact is people still base many of their opinions on what they hear “experts” say on TV, in print, or on the radio.

Discussions about earmarks are a perfect example. Ask the average person what they think of earmarks and you’ll likely hear that earmarks are the bane of human existence and that politicians who insert earmarks should be hung from the nearest yardarm.

What is an earmark? According to the Office of Management and Budget, earmarks are defined 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 put money directly into projects important to a Congressperson instead of letting the money go through normal channels. We get to hear about the more egregious earmarks annually from any number of self-appointed “pork barrel spending” watchdogs. Remember the infamous “bridge to nowhere?” That was an earmark.

During the presidential campaign we heard countless promises to eliminate earmarks and recently we’ve been told that President Obama, despite promising pass a stimulus bill free of earmarks, chose not to fight Congress over earmarks inserted into the economic recovery plan, drawing the ire of just about everyone. Of course, those that got the earmarks inserted probably aren’t upset. Furthermore, the recipients of the earmarked funding should be happy with the outcome as well.

Count me among those happy that earmarks made it into the stimulus package. Why? Because one of the earmarks in the stimulus package is for the Florida Keys Wastewater Project.  Senator Bill Nelson and Senator Martinez (yes, the same Senator I excoriated in a previous column) inserted this earmark into the stimulus package. Wastewater funding was an earmark in an appropriation bill last year but it never got funded. The Keys should be getting money under any circumstances because not only are we shovel-ready, we’re shovel-dirty. The project is already underway. Unfortunately, despite all we hear to the contrary, getting money isn’t that simple.

Monroe County and its cities have been begging for Federal sewer dollars but to date we haven’t received very much. Truth be told, if the Keys wastewater projects didn’t fit into the overall plan for Everglades restoration there would likely be no money at all.

Earmarks may make great fodder for pundits and politicians.

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