The FBI just released its preliminary crime statistics for 2007, showing slight drops in both property crimes and violent crimes. Overall, violent crime fell 1.4 percent, while property crimes dropped 2.1 percent.
Here in Oklahoma, the preliminary statistics cover only cities of 100,000 or more. But you can check out the numbers of reported crimes for Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Norman. The FBI cautions against relying on strict comparisons between cities, for reasons spelled out here.
The FBI will release final crime statistics for 2007 in September. In the meantime, check out the FBI’s preliminary UCR Web site.
You might be hearing a lot about earmarks this weekend, both nationally and locally.
The Oklahoman is among more than 20 news outlets that have been looking into the process by which earmarks are slipped into federal spending bills. The project is sponsored by the Associated Press Managing Editors and two nonprofit government watchdog groups, Taxpayers for Common Sense and the Sunlight Foundation.
The problem is, there’s no single definition of an earmark. Various federal budget agencies define them differently, as do other government watchdog groups such as Citizens Against Government Waste. But generally, an earmark is appropriations money targeted to a specific geographic area, organization or institution. Most of the time, that money isn’t requested by a particular federal agency.
Some lawmakers prefers to call earmarks “congressionally directed spending” and note that the Constitution gives Congress the “power of the purse.” Detractors say earmarks derail federal, state and local spending priorities and only go to the “squeakiest wheels” that can afford to hire lobbyists to make their case to lawmakers.
Most earmarks are for worthy projects such as dams, roads, military housing, medical research and health programs. Others are for private companies, nonprofits or universities. While almost every federal appropriations bill contains earmarks, the big-ticket earmarks end up in reports accompanying the Defense Department or Transportation Department appropriations bills.
Here in Oklahoma, more than $542 million in earmarks were secured for the state last year. Oklahoma’s Congressional delegation–minus earmarks critic Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee–accounted for just $109 million of that total. President Bush requested the rest–more than $433 million. The average Oklahoma earmark was for $4.14 million.
Here’s the breakdown of earmarks secured by each Oklahoma Congressional member. The figures come from an analysis of data provided by Taxpayers for Common Sense:
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa
43 solo earmarks, for a total of $61 million; 37 joint earmarks with various House members
Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne
18 solo earmarks, for a total of $13.98 million; two joint earmarks for a total of $933,000
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore
11 solo earmarks, for a total of $9.26 million; two joint earmarks for a total of $933,000
Rep. John Sullivan, R-Tulsa
11 solo earmarks, for a total of $8.94 million; one joint earmark for $2 million
Rep. Dan Boren, D-Muskogee
9 solo earmarks, for a total of $6.92 million; one joint earmark for $2 million
Rep. Mary Fallin, R-Oklahoma City
10 solo earmarks, for a total of $4.94 million; one joint earmark for $195,000
Generally, senators have much more sway when it comes to requesting earmarks, which most likely accounts for Inhofe’s haul. Committee assignments count, too. Inhofe is one of the top members of the Senate Armed Services committee. Boren, Cole and Sullivan are members of the House Armed Services committee. Lucas is on the House Committee on Agriculture, and serves as chairman of one of its subcommittees.
As several lobbying scandals have erupted in recent years, Congress has worked to enhance disclosure rules on earmarks. Previously, most earmarks were anonymous and buried in committee reports that accompanied appropriations bills or stuck in final House-Senate conference reports. Now, House and Senate members must disclose their earmark requests. Some, like Fallin, put them online. Others, like Boren, tout them in press releases. Cole had his entered into the Congressional Record.
For more background on the overall earmarking process, you can read a fairly lengthy Harvard University briefing paper. Or take a look at an anonymous document circulating on Capitol Hill touting the benefits of earmarks over spending decisions made by bureaucrats at federal agencies. (PDF links)