Colleges Look Hard To Replace Earmarks

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Dozens of Massachusetts colleges are scrambling to find alternate ways to pay for research programs, campus construction, and other initiatives to make up for the loss of federal money once delivered through so-called earmarks.

A two-year moratorium on the practice, which allowed lawmakers to tack dollars for pet projects onto a bill without debate, hits the state particularly hard. In the past three years alone, colleges in the Bay State received more than $57 million to fund items such as a large telescope at University of Massachusetts Amherst, a library renovation at Lesley University, and research on biological warfare at Boston University, according to the nonpartisan group Taxpayers for Common Sense.

In response to the freeze, schools are turning to Washington lobbyists to prowl the federal bureaucracy on their behalf, pleading with local benefactors to make up the difference in funds, and aggressively seeking federal grants. Researchers have been forced to shift priorities or lower their ambitions. In some cases, workers have been let go.

"What’s happening now in the post-earmark world is that it becomes a multifaceted strategy,’’ said Michael Armini, who oversees Northeastern University’s government relations. “It’s not just all about Capitol Hill."

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