Imagine going to work and put in a memo that you need a half-million dollars for the study of cool season legumes (foods such as beans, lentils, and peanuts), or $2.5 million to redevelop your historic downtown area with the money also purchasing trash cans and bike racks.

That seems to be the way it's done by some lawmakers. These are called "earmark requests" and for Fiscal Year 2011, earmark requests in the U.S. House and Senate total a whopping $130.6 billion.

It is Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota who wants $500,000 to support cool season legume research for the University of Idaho College of Agriculture.

In other "requests", Rep. Ron Paul wants $2.5 million to develop the historic downtown area of Baytown, Texas (pop. 70,871); Rep. Mark Critz asked for $10 million to establish the John P. Murtha Center for Public Service; and outgoing Senator Arlen Specter put in for earmarks totaling over $2 billion.

While lawmakers proclaim that spending is out of control, few want to be included in measures to curtail it.

The earmark requests are one way lawmakers could show some spending restraint.

Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey has made a total of 855 earmark requests for the current fiscal year.

The highest state for earmarks is California, with $7.2 billion requested, followed by New York, seeking $7 billion.

Pennsylvania lawmakers, with 1,763 requests, are rated fifth in the number of earmarks sought.

Requests by Democrats far exceed the number of Republicans.

There are a total of 39,295 requests for earmarks in the current year. How can every one possibly be given serious evaluation by lawmakers? Does being elected to a seat in Washington automatically mean there are millions of dollars available for your constituents?

It's wrong that earmarks are treated as everyday expenditures. American taxpayers can't afford all these pet projects.

Spending must be cut back at all levels of government, and earmarks should especially be among the first to be curtailed. If nothing else, there should at least be a moratorium on them until the federal budget is again balanced, with the only exception being that the entire Congress approves them only after debate in public forum.

By Ron Gower

rgower@tnonline.com