Pa. Earmark Spending Hits All-Time High

August 26, 2021, Harrisburg, Pa.— A new Commonwealth Foundation analysis shows a steep increase in earmarks in the 2021–2022 state budget. Approximately $5.5 billion in both federal and state money is allocated to individual entities through 108 earmarks and fund transfers in the Fiscal Code.

The vast majority of the increase is due to federal COVID funds, though state-funded earmarks are also at a high.

When solely accounting for state money, 85 earmarks account for $193.5 million in spending—this is a 62% increase from the 2020–2021 Fiscal Code, a 314% increase from 2019-2020, and a 558% increase from 2018–2019. 



(Graphic: Fiscal Code Earmark Annual Total)

“While many of the earmarks provide funds to worthwhile causes, the use of earmarks creates a hidden process often used for funneling money to lobbyists’ priorities, such as horseracing funds and gambling subsidies,” said Commonwealth Foundation Policy Analyst Jessica Barnett. “The steep increase in the use of earmarks to distribute taxpayers’ money in recent years should be a concern to anyone who values transparency and accountability in government.”

The Pennsylvania Legislature passes an annual Fiscal Code instructing executive departments and commissions on how to implement the year’s state operating budget appropriations. Article 3, Section 30 of the Pennsylvania Constitution prohibits directing taxpayer funds to specific entities without a separate vote. Yet, lawmakers continue to sidestep that rule by inserting convoluted, obscure wording to direct money to individual corporations, bureaucracies, and other organizations through Fiscal Code earmarks. 

Here is an example of an earmark of an unknown sum for what appears to be a Taiwan Office of Trade and Investment:

From money appropriated for the Office of International Business Development, the department shall reopen and maintain an Office of Trade and Investment in a city which operates in an economy which is part of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation international forum and in which an Office of Trade and Investment existed on July 1, 2020. An Office of Trade and Investment which is required to be reopened under this clause shall be reopened no later than March 31, 2022.

You can view a database of each earmark in the budget here.

Commonwealth Foundation experts are available for comment. Please contact Michael Torres at 850-619-2737 or [email protected] to schedule an interview.

# # #

The Commonwealth Foundation transforms free-market ideas into public policies so all Pennsylvanians can flourish.