Members of Maine’s congressional delegation have requested funding for more than 150 projects from Kittery to the St. John Valley through the earmark process, a special discretionary spending mechanism that returned to Washington this year.
Officially known as congressionally directed spending items, earmarks allow lawmakers to ask for money for specific projects within their state or district, such as funding for road and bridge repairs, substance use treatment programs, water infrastructure upgrades and land purchases. Not all of the earmarks proposed by members of Maine’s congressional delegation will ultimately get funding, but they provide some insight into lawmakers’ priorities.
Earmarks were long a part of the legislative process until Congress banned them a decade ago after several scandals led to concerns about corruption and waste. Democrats — with the support of House Republicans — opted to bring them back this year with some precautions, on the basis that including funding for specific projects important to individual representatives and their constituents would help achieve compromise.
Government entities and nonprofits are eligible for earmarked money, but private, for-profit companies are not. Lawmakers are required to certify that neither they nor any of their family members have a financial interest in a project for which they are earmarking funds.
Nearly all congressional Democrats have proposed earmarks, while some Republicans have been more hesitant, although Sen. Susan Collins, who serves on the appropriations committee, is among those in her party who has participated, submitting more than 70 requests. Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, has proposed more than 100.
While there are no limits for senators, House Democrats limited their members to 10 requests. Reps. Chellie Pingree of the 1st District and Jared Golden of the 2nd District, both Democrats, each submitted that amount. In some cases, two or three members of Maine’s delegation submitted a request on behalf of the same entity or project.
Emergency management projects were the most common type of funding request from Maine’s delegation, with proposed earmarks for new fire stations in the towns of Corinna, Washburn, Limerick, Howland and Rumford, as well as firefighter training facilities in Scarborough and Auburn.
Collins also asked for $850,000 for a new emergency management facility in York County, while Golden is seeking $300,000 to purchase ambulances for the East Millinocket Rural Ambulance Service and King proposed $1 million to replace the Cumberland County Emergency Management Agency’s radio system.
Several of Pingree’s requested earmarks were related to health care, including funding for a community-based dental care initiative for children and two programs for substance use treatment in Portland and Augusta.
The size of proposed earmarks varies greatly. Smaller requests include $38,000 sought by King to upgrade public bathrooms along Moosehead Lake in Greenville and $75,000 from Collins to survey the Georges River in Knox County and prepare for dredging.
Larger asks include $10 million requested by Collins to improve safety on a stretch of Route 1 in Camden, $12.8 million from King to replace the Badge Island Bridge in Kittery and nearly $13 million requested by both Maine senators for rail updates in Aroostook County. Collins also requested nearly $94 million for updates to the Coburn Gore port of entry in Franklin County, by far the largest spending request from any member of Maine’s delegation.
Lawmakers could take up earmarks as they consider spending bills for fiscal year 2022 later this summer. Many requests will not make it into a final bill this fall, as earmarks are only permitted to account for 1 percent of discretionary spending. For a full, searchable list of earmarks proposed by members of Maine’s congressional delegation, see the table below.