International Encyclopedia of Public Policy and Administration - Vol. 2

By Jay M. Shafritz | Go to book overview

Third, earmarking may assure continuity of funding for particular projects. This dedication accommodates long-range planning and provides some confidence that plans will receive some resources in the future. For instance, several states have dedicated a legally defined portion of a particular tax to the support of local education: thus, that program can be assured of the revenue generated by this source, so the earmark assures a minimum funding even if difficult fiscal conditions exist.


The Argument Against Earmarking

There are important arguments against earmarking, however. First, earmarking reduces flexibility and control in the budget process. The government (or a population, if the law comes from a referendum) in place when the earmark occurs effectively limits the ability of new governments or populations to move resources in response to new or changing public demands. This rigidity may cause the public sector to be artificially inflated; because available resources are tied by the existing earmark, any new compelling problem that might arise can be accommodated only by enacting new or higher taxes, rather than through the reallocation of existing funds to the now more pressing needs. Earmarking without an expiration date, whether originating by referendum or by statute, presumes that the problems at the time of the earmark will continue, forever, to be the most critical that the government will have to deal with. As Burkhead ( 1956) observed: "earmarking . . . represent an attempt, not to introduce an improved pattern of fiscal management, but to protect and isolate the beneficiaries of specific governmental programs" (p. 228).

Second, earmarking breaks the comprehensiveness of the budget. It means that there will not be an even competition for fiscal resources, that there will be no level playing field in the process. This often creates a feast-famine situation in the budget because growth in revenue seldom matches growth in demand for the function. Earmarking sets the rate of the tax. As taxpayer preferences change, collections will be related to taxpayer demand only by coincidence.

Finally, earmarking can delude the public into false security about service provision. Earmarking provides no fundamental protection for a function against the basic fiscal problems of the government and no guarantee that earmarked receipts will not simply replace funds that would have been provided from other sources. Nothing about earmarking can change the fact that revenues are fungible and legislatures are independent. They are likely to regard government revenue as government revenue, to be distributed according to public needs as seen by the legislature at the time that funds are being appropriated.


Conclusion

Nothing protects a government service better than a political consensus on the need for that service. If a consensus exists, earmarking is not necessary to fund a service. And earmarking will not insulate a service from cuts during a fiscal crisis. If the public bureaucracy is wasteful, earmarking simply assures a revenue flow for one section of government to waste. During normal times, earmarking complicates bookkeeping, impedes fiscal flexibility, but makes little fiscal difference. Except for use in some circumstances involving true benefit taxation, in which a tax is on a private good, the consumption of which is complementary to use of a public good-rare conditions in the real world-earmarking is largely a gimmick that at worst represents a trick on the public and at best achieves what general fund budgeting and a responsible legislative leadership would achieve. Earmarking cannot establish credibility in an irresponsible government.

JOHN L. MIKESELL


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Burkhead, Jesse, 1956. Government Budgeting. New York: John Wiley.

Gold, Steven D., Brenda Erickson and Michelle Kissell, 1987 Earmarking State Taxes. Denver: National Conference of State Legislatures

U.S. General Accounting Office, 1990. Budget Issues: Earmarking in the Federal Government. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office

U.S. Congressional Budget Office, 1993. The Growth of Federal User Charges. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office

Wagner, Richard E., 1991. "Tax Norms, Fiscal Reality, and the Democratic State: User Charges and Earmarked Taxes in Principle and Practice." In R. E. Wagner, ed., Charging for Government: User Charges and Earmarked Taxes in Principle and Practice. London: Routledge.

ECOLE NATIONAL d'ADMINISTRATION (ENA). The National School of Adminstration created by an ordinance of October 9, 1945, as one component of a broader reform of the French civil service. It is through the ENA that top-level government officials are recruited and trained. Thus, the school is intermediate between advanced university studies and entry into the public service.

It was created in response to both moral and technical objectives. The former relates to the need to democratize the system of recruitment for top-level administrators. Previous systems of specialized competitive examinations led to a form of cooptation and limited recruitment mainly to the Parisian upper classes. One goal was therefore to open up access to the higher ranks of the public service to the entire range of social classes. The second objective was to enhance the skills and competence of these officials. The

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International Encyclopedia of Public Policy and Administration - Vol. 2
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