Montana’s lone U.S. congressman has joined other conservative lawmakers in signing a pledge to not request earmark spending projects. This comes after Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives ended a decade-long ban on earmarks, or congressionally directed spending.
Republican Congressman Matt Rosendale says history shows that earmarks lead to a culture of corruption.
Rosendale signed the pledge March 17 with other members of the conservative congressional Freedom Caucus. A spokesperson for Rosendale says earmarks — those budget items that enable lawmakers to fund projects in their districts — amount to bribery and lead to runaway spending.
The Billings' mayor voiced concern over the congressman's position this week by the Billings Gazette. The paper reported that Mayor Bill Cole was worried that Montana would not have a voice at the table to request earmark spending for local projects. He wasn't the only Montana city head worrying.
"I think that’s unfortunate," Missoula Mayor John Engen said.
Engen has held the office since 2006 and remembers the days before Republicans imposed an earmark ban in 2011. He hopes Rosendale reconsiders his opposition because earmarks help low-population states like Montana win resources that otherwise may have been lost in the shuffle.
"Those pledges tend to be kind of sexy, and they're kind of gimmicky and they're kind of easy, but governing is complicated," Engen said. "I’d hate to think that the entire state of Montana is leaving resources on the table that most other states are taking advantage of."
Bozeman Mayor Cyndy Andrus agrees. She has been on the city’s governing body since 2010 and said $4 million earmarked by former U.S. Sen. Max Baucus about 15 years ago funded a local 435-space parking garage.
"That parking garage has generated over $100 million in investment in our downtown core," Andrus said.
Congressman Rosendale was not available for an interview Thursday, but in an email to MTPR spokesman Harry Fones wrote:
"Montana would still receive funding through formulae and competitive grants, and Rosendale will still advocate for Montana priorities through the regular appropriations process as well as in standalone legislation."