In the run up to this fall's elections, Congressman Boehlert has been criticized by some for his purported underperformance in securing congressional funds for his district. Both Democratic and Republican critics of Congressman Boehlert have claimed that federal spending in his district is well below average. They reference a study done for the Associated Press that looks at data through 2001. The study claims Boehlert's district ranked only 326th out of 435 congressional districts.
Hamilton College government professor Philip Klinkner and Hamilton junior Arlo Storey conducted a study recently of congressional funding for the 24thCongressional District and offer a different perspective on some of these commonly held views.
According to Klinkner, Boehlert supporters argue that overall spending figures are misleading, since members of Congress have little control over many types of federal expenditures. For example, much federal spending consists of entitlements such as Social Security or Medicare. How many seniors reside in a district is something beyond the control of members of Congress.
To examine these competing claims Hamilton's Klinkner and Storey looked at the 2002 Consolidated Federal Funds Report, compiled by theU.S. Census Bureau. This was the same data source used in the A.P study, though Klinkner and Storey had the advantage of using the more recent 2002 numbers.
Unfortunately, no hard figures exist on federal spending broken down by congressional district, since funding numbers are available only for individual counties. To control for this problem, the researchers looked only at spending in one congressional district and excluded spending in more than one district. As a result, thirty-three districts (those in urban areas where several districts reside in one county) were excluded from their analysis.
In their study, they avoided entitlement spending and looked only at forms of discretionary spending including traditional "pork-barrel" spending for things like special construction money, new government facilities, highway projects, or research grants. Members of Congress have much more influence on this type of spending thereby providing the best measure of what he or she brings to the district. They examined two types of discretionary spending, procurement (which includes construction expenses, purchasing, and other outlays under contracts) and grants (continuing programs and one-time grants awarded to individuals or institutions).
In 2002, Boehlert's district ranked 168th out of 402 districts overall for spending on grants and procurement. Since spending tends to be higher among members of the majority party, among more senior members, and among committee chairs, Klinkner and Storey also looked at how Boehlert fared among these groups. Among all Republicans, Boehlert was 88th out of 217. Among committee chairs, he was 8th out of 23. Out all members with 20 or more years of seniority, Boehlert was 27th out of 79. Among all Republicans with 20 or more years seniority, he was 12th out of 38.
Although these findings are estimates based on several assumptions and data limitations, Klinkner and Storey believe they demonstrate a pattern of federal funding in the 24th congressional district that might be of great interest to voters when they enter the voting booth.
Arlo Storey, of Westmoreland, is a student at Hamilton College, where he worked with Professor Philip Klinker on a study of congressional funding for the 24th Congressional District.