Skip to comments.Anatomy of an Earmark
Posted on 03/16/2009 1:07:04 PM PDT by Bruce Buckley
Anatomy of an Earmark By Byron York Chief Political Correspondent 3/6/09
Ripped up seats are among the remains of Tiger Stadium, former home of the Detroit Tigers major league baseball team. Who wouldnt spend $3.8 million on a half-demolished baseball stadium? You can't be a Republican on Capitol Hill these days without talking about the 8,000 earmarks in the massive omnibus spending bill. With somewhere between $5 billion and $8 billion in special spending projects, the bill contains so much questionable spending that no outsider -- actually no insider, either -- can keep track of it all.
So this week I asked the Senate's leading anti-pork crusader, Republican Tom Coburn, to single out one earmark, one lone spending provision, that best symbolized the kind of waste that Coburn and a few other lonely lawmakers are fighting.
He pointed me to a halfway-demolished baseball stadium in Detroit.
The old Tiger Stadium was built in 1912 and was the home of Detroit's big-league team until 1999. After the Tigers moved to a new stadium a mile away, it became the subject of intense controversy about what should be done with it.
The city wanted to tear it down. Local preservationists wanted to turn it into a sports complex and museum.
What happened was literally akin to splitting the baby. The city decided to level the stadium. Demolition crews began tearing it down, beginning with the outfield bleachers. But the preservationists, who had formed a group called the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy, convinced the city council to give the field a mid-demolition reprieve. The work was stopped, leaving intact an L-shaped portion of the stadium from home plate to each dugout. (For aerial photos of the stadium in its various stages of demolition, see here.)
The Conservancy and the city made a deal. What remained of the stadium could stand if the Conservancy raised private funds to put it to some productive use.
As it turned out, the Conservancy couldn't raise the money. The final, final end of Tiger Stadium seemed near. And that's where the omnibus spending bill came in.
If you look on page 84 of the report accompanying the Senate version of the bill, you'll see a provision allocating $3.8 million "for preservation and redevelopment of a public park and related business activities in the Corktown Neighborhood." That would be the old Tiger Stadium.
The earmark was the work of Michigan Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, who also tried to get federal money for the project last year. It didn't happen then, but now, with Congress and the president in a spending mood, the project has reappeared.
That was no surprise to Tom Coburn's staff. One of the senator's assistants had been collecting articles about the stadium for a year -- he tries to keep tabs on other lawmakers' pet projects, so Coburn won't be surprised when the inevitable earmark appears.
Coburn filed an amendment to strip the Tiger Stadium money out of the bill. In response, Levin called the half-demolished stadium a "field of dreams" and said it would "bring much-needed jobs to a part of the city that desperately needs them."
When the Senate voted, Levin won. The ruins of Tiger Stadium will stand. And that, in a nutshell, is a classic earmark story. "It's not a bad idea to save a historic landmark, but the time for spending money on frills is not now," Coburn told me. "How could that be a priority right now, when we have a $1.8 trillion dollar deficit?"
I asked Coburn about Detroit, which is by general agreement an unmitigated disaster. This week the Chicago Tribune reported that the median price of a home sold in the city in December was $7,500. "There is no major grocery chain in the city, and only two movie theaters," the paper reported. "Much of the neighborhood economy revolves around rib joints, hot dog stands and liquor stores."
What about the argument that putting money into a project like the old Tiger Stadium will create jobs? "If you want to bring jobs to the area, build some roads, build something that's going to produce wealth," Coburn told me. "If this will create jobs, you should ask for how long and for what purpose? Will this create net worth after you've build it?"
The fact that private business in Detroit didn't see the point in pouring money into the project is probably the answer to that question. Yet the federal money will soon be on the way.
How did it happen? "It's a culture thing," Coburn told me, referring to Congress' weakness for special spending. "It's 'I won't step on your earmark if you won't step on mine.'" Even if it's a half-demolished baseball stadium.
I went to a game there in 1963. It was SO boring it would be 44 years before I watched another game.
What in the world could make Detroit such a disaster that business doesn’t want to move there? Anybody?
That pretty much sums up the whole Democrat economic policy.
If you would like to be added or dropped from the Michigan ping list, please freepmail me.
I'm a huge Tigers fan, and saving the old stadium is a huge waste of money. The end.
Naaaaah, just kidding--discuss!
Hey, that new ballpark bought Detroit the pennant. ;’) Thanks grellis.
When you have a city council that has master the twin arts of communism and racism, it not hard to see why any business would shy away. It's not just that businesses will not move there, it that many businesses have been doing their level best to escape Detroit for the past 30 years.
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