Earmarking #045; a good thing or not?

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 3, 2003

One last gasp on the Amendment 1 front.

I'm finding it fascinating that some people are opposed to it because the funds new taxes will provide have very little earmarking. At the same time, I'm hearing others oppose it because there isn't any earmarking at all. Being a relative newcomer to the State of Alabama, I'm finding the whole "earmarking" issue amazing.

Trying to explain an issue to a younger person is often a way to explain the issue to yourself. Thinking about this, I came up with the following hypothetical conversation:

Son: What's earmarking, Mom?

Mom: Well, it's like this. Say your dad and I brought home $100,000 this year…

Son : (muffled laughter): Yeah, right.

Mom: Stay with me here, boy. Out of that $100,000, we have certain bills to pay. Lots and lots of bills to lots and lots of people. This year, we will have to give

- all imaginary numbers here, understand? - 10 percent to the state and federal government; 25 percent to utilities; 2 percent to daycare for Buzz; 30

percent to house and car payments; 13 percent to everyday living expenses; 10 percent to the Christmas fund; 5 percent to charity; and the rest we put back in savings. Each category we have to pay has its own separate account at the bank, and we put that money in there every month.

Son: Okay….

Mom: So if we "earmarked" these funds and locked them in by law, unable to change them,

what happens next year, when Buzz starts school and we don't have daycare costs?

Son: You take his money and put it in my college fund.

Mom: Very funny. But even if we wanted to, we couldn't, because the "law" won't let us move money from one account to another. Now, what happens if you get accepted to MIT, which is a billion or so more dollars a year than we've budgeted for your college account? What if utilities costs keep rising the way they have the past year, and soon the amount they want is more than the amount we've earmarked?

Son: So the governor is wanting to un-earmark funds so unused money can be moved to where it can be used.

Mom: In a nutshell, yes.

Son" Why is that bad? Why are

some people against it?

Mom: Ever carry a handful of pennies across a room? No matter how careful you are, some will slip between your fingers. The more you move money around from place to place, the higher the chances are that some of it will be misappropriated, misplaced, or simply taken. Then both agencies suffer - the one that was supposed to get the funds and the one that had the funds in the first place.

Son: Oh. Why can't they just earmark the most important ones and change the law too protect the money when its being moved from place to place?

Mom: That, my son, is the $1.2 billion question. Was there anything else you wanted to know?"

Son: "Yeah. What's all this about Christina, Madonna and…"

Mom: "Go ask your dad."