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Generational shift ushers in new era for Senate earmarks split

After retirements, dollars aimed at Alabama, Vermont, Oklahoma, Missouri and North Carolina decline

Earmarks in Senate spending bills would send the most dollars to Maine, home of Republican Sen. Susan Collins, left, and the most money per capita to Alaska, home of Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
Earmarks in Senate spending bills would send the most dollars to Maine, home of Republican Sen. Susan Collins, left, and the most money per capita to Alaska, home of Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senate appropriators may have kept up the earmarking pace even after several heavyweights retired at the end of the 117th Congress, but a handful of states are feeling the loss.

Alabama, Vermont, Oklahoma, Missouri and North Carolina combined would see nearly $1.4 billion less in “congressionally directed spending,” as senators call earmarks, in the chamber’s fiscal 2024 appropriations bills compared to fiscal 2023 Senate bills. That’s about four-fifths of the $1.7 billion decline of earmarked funds across 18 states compared with the versions Senate appropriators released last year.

Luckily for 21 other states, new Appropriations Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., and ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine, still had plenty of money to spread around — just $38 million less than the panel’s former leaders had the previous year, for a total of more than $7.7 billion. States seeing their earmark totals increase would receive about $1.7 billion more than the previous year. 

[Big shoes filled as Senate appropriators spread earmarks wealth]

Collins’ home state is the biggest beneficiary, gaining $278 million and moving into the top slot among states in Senate bills. That’s fitting since Collins stepped into the role formerly held by now-retired Sen. Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., whose earmarking prowess propelled his state to the top of the fiscal 2023 Senate bills.

Maine, No. 6 a year ago, is now the top recipient of Senate earmarks with a total of $601.7 million in the fiscal 2024 bills, with a population that’s ninth from the bottom. Maine is followed in the rankings by, in order, Mississippi, Hawaii and Alaska; those four states’ populations in 2022 averaged about 1.6 million each, according to Census Bureau data.

Contrast that with the House, where representation is based on population. The top four earmarking states in the House’s fiscal 2024 bills are, in order, the four largest population-wise — California, Texas, Florida and New York — averaging 27.7 million residents. 

In the Senate bills, New York is 9th and California 13th, while Texas and Florida get nothing since their states’ GOP senators don’t seek earmarks. 

In the House, less-populous states have worse luck when it comes to earmarks: Mississippi ranks 25th in that chamber’s fiscal 2024 bills, Hawaii is 39th, Maine is 40th and Alaska, with its lonely at-large representative, is third from the bottom.

[Red states’ revenge evident in House earmarks distribution]

However, it all mostly comes out in the wash in the final spending bills, which, with some exceptions, typically pile the Senate’s earmarks on top of the House’s after removing duplicates sought by lawmakers in both chambers. 

In the final fiscal 2023 spending package, California lawmakers took home almost as much as their earlier House and Senate totals combined: $1.38 billion, compared with $1.5 billion in the initial versions. That was by far the largest amount, followed by Texas. 

But thanks to Shelby with a little help from his House delegation, Alabama and its 5.1 million residents came in third, ahead of Florida and New York. Oklahoma, Hawaii, Missouri and Alaska, in that order, were next; those four states combined have fewer people than Illinois, the 10th ranking state for total fiscal 2023 earmarks.

Maine was 14th overall last year in the final spending bill, though it seems likely to break into the top five in total fiscal 2024 earmarks with a total of $628 million thus far in the House and Senate bills. That’s 4th overall behind California, Texas and New York. 

Mississippi, ranked 18th among states in the final fiscal 2023 package, might also break into the top five, right behind Maine in the current House and Senate bills with a combined $564.5 million.

A dozen states in each of the past two budget cycles received no earmarks in the Senate bills because their GOP senators don’t participate. Aside from the aforementioned Florida and Texas, they include Kentucky, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Indiana, Iowa, North Dakota, Tennessee and Utah. 

Due to former GOP Sen. Roy Blunt’s retirement, Missouri is now part of that list, while Nebraska has dropped off since Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb, started asking for earmarks this year, her first on the Appropriations Committee.

To the appropriators go the spoils

In the Senate, the needs of smaller, rural states are often taken care of by senior Appropriations members who make many of the panel’s key funding decisions.

Aside from Collins, the top four earmarking states’ senators include the leaders of the Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee, the largest individual source of earmarks: Chairman Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and ranking member Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss. Other influential members of those delegations also lend their weight to earmark requests, such as Roger Wicker, R-Miss., the Armed Services panel ranking member.

Murkowski, the Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member, doesn’t get any earmarking help from Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, but she doesn’t need it. 

For the second consecutive year, Alaska is fourth in overall earmarks but No. 1 in per capita “congressionally directed spending,” with about $633.88 per resident in the Senate bills. Alaska has 0.2 percent of the U.S. population, but a greater than 6 percent share of the earmarks in the Senate appropriations bills.

Maine, with 0.4 percent of the population, jumps from No. 6 into the top slot for total earmarks formerly occupied by Alabama. Maine’s per capita earmarks nearly doubled from a year earlier, to $434.33, second only to Alaska. 

Mississippi makes a big move up to No. 2 behind Maine in overall dollars, from 12th a year earlier; total Mississippi earmarks in Senate bills more than doubled, to $479 million. Over one-quarter of the state’s fiscal 2024 earmarks are in the Transportation-HUD bill, after Hyde-Smith assumed the role of GOP ranking member earlier this year.

Another state more than doubling its take is Arkansas, which vaults from 22nd to 7th in the rankings with $290.7 million, thanks to the solo efforts of Senate Military Construction-VA Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member John Boozman, R-Ark. Arkansas also has a strong showing in the House bills, likely guaranteeing the state a heftier share of fiscal 2024 earmarks.

South Dakota, which similarly didn’t experience any change in its delegation, also more than doubled its total from the initial Senate fiscal 2023 bills. Solo requests from Mike Rounds, R-S.D., and joint projects from Rounds and Minority Whip John Thune increased, offsetting a slight drop in Thune solo requests.

South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, a senior Appropriations panel member, single-handedly lifts his state up in the rankings from 9th to 5th, increasing the state’s haul by over 53 percent compared with last year’s Senate bills.

West Virginia also would get a hefty slice of additional funding, increasing its earmarks total by more than 50 percent thanks to appropriators Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican, and Democrat Joe Manchin III. 

The Labor-HHS-Education bill, which Capito oversees as ranking member, contains nearly one-third of the overall $399.5 million in earmarks she and Manchin secured for their state, which moves West Virginia up from 8th to 6th in the Senate rankings.

Nebraska and Pennsylvania are also big beneficiaries, thanks to newfound interest in earmarking among their delegations. 

Fischer, a newcomer to earmarking, dove in this year to increase her state’s haul to by $120.8 million.

And Pennsylvania nearly tripled its take after Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., took the seat held by now-retired Republican Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, an earmark critic. Fetterman’s arrival, combined with Democratic Sen. Bob Casey’s efforts, add $104 million more to Pennsylvania’s total than in the fiscal 2023 Senate bills.

Feeling the sting

All the extra money had to come from somewhere as Senate appropriators wrestled with tight budget caps required by the debt ceiling law enacted earlier this year. 

Oklahoma is the biggest loser in terms of total dollars with a $426 million, 83 percent drop after former Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., retired. His successor, Sen. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., was still able to secure $84.6 million. 

Alabama sacrifices $352 million from its total in last year’s Senate bills, a nearly 54 percent cut despite both freshman Katie Britt, R-Ala., a former Shelby aide, and earmarking newcomer Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., picking up the torch. Alabama’s earmark total of $304 million is still good enough for 7th among states in the Senate bills.

North Carolina also loses 60 percent of its earmarks, a $68 million cut, as earmark foe Ted Budd, R-N.C., took retired GOP Sen. Richard M. Burr’s old seat.

Former Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick J. Leahy’s home state of Vermont drops from 10th to 35th for earmarked funds, shedding $163 million or 64 percent. Vermont’s 647,000-strong population would still receive about $141.55 per resident, but that’s a far cry from Leahy’s last year in office when Vermont’s per capita earmarks were $393.54, second only to Alaska.

The starkest decline may be Missouri’s, where the impact of Blunt’s retirement can’t be overstated: earmarks drop from $362.4 million a year ago, when Blunt was the top Republican on Senate Labor-HHS-Education appropriations, to zero in this year’s Senate bills. Blunt’s successor, GOP Sen. Eric Schmitt, doesn’t request earmarks and neither does the state’s other Republican senator, Josh Hawley.

Herb Jackson contributed to this report.

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