FAA AMENDMENT: A LAND TRANSFER, NOT AN EARMARK
Washington, DC (April 26, 2011) The information below is intended to help answer questions that have been raised over HR 1431, a bill proposed by Rep. Pearce on April 7, 2011. The bill will allow a land transfer between Verde Corporate Realty Services and the Doña Ana County Airport at Santa Teresa. Mr. Pearce initially offered this bill as an amendment to HR 658, the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act.
What would this bill do?
Verde Corporate Realty Services and the Doña Ana County Airport at Santa Teresa own adjacent properties that are partitioned in small triangular segments. The awkward boundary makes development of the property difficult or impossible for both sides. The two entities want to exchange portions of land so that they each own adjacent rectangular segments of area roughly equivalent to the original triangles. Because of a 1970 law, the exchange requires congressional approval, which Rep. Pearce proposed in this legislation.
Was the amendment an earmark?
This was not an earmark, because it does not fit the House definition of an earmark. The accusation was about political games on Capitol Hill, not about fact.
The land transfer was approved under a bipartisan amendment proposed by Rep. Pearce and Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson. If the transfer was an earmark, then it would not have passed under the Pearce-Matheson Amendment.
Earmarks are about pork. This amendment is not. According to the House definition of an earmark, earmarks involve federal funding. This amendment does not involve any federal funding; it was only an authorization for a land transfer between the County and Verde Realty. Calling it an earmark does not make it one.
What is the House definition of an earmark?
The House definition of an earmark is as follows: “a provision or report language included primarily at the request of a Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, or Senator providing, authorizing or recommending a specific amount of discretionary budget authority, credit authority, or other spending authority for a contract, loan, loan guarantee, grant, loan authority, or other expenditure with or to an entity, or targeted to a specific State, locality or Congressional district, other than through a statutory or administrative formula driven or competitive award process.” The amendment in question did none of the above, and is therefore not, by definition, an earmark.
Did the amendment violate the House ban on earmarks?
No. Again, earmarks involve expenditure from Congress, and this amendment involved no funding. It was only about authorizing an equal exchange of land between the county and the realty company.
The amendment passed the House Rules committee, which determined the amendment not to be an earmark and allowed it to be offered on the floor of the House.
Subcommittee Chairman Tom Petri stated from the floor that he had reviewed the amendment and found it to be “reasonable and important.”
How do land transfers work?
Land transfers are very routine, and very important for Western states, where the federal government owns large percentages of land. If Congress is not able to approve exchanges of that land, then economic development is gridlocked and states like New Mexico suffer.
In this particular case, the transfer was completely equitable: two pieces of land of nearly-equal value were to be exchanged, and Verde Realty agreed to build a road that the airport needed to make the trade of equal value. Since no money was to be exchanged, (Mr. Pearce explained from the floor that the federal government neither gained nor lost any value in the exchange) the transfer does not fit the House definition of an earmark. Congress was needed only to approve the transfer, not to provide any funding.
Ranking member Rahall, who made the accusation that the bill was an earmark, routinely offered and allowed land transfers when he was Chairman of the House Resources Committee under the Democrat-controlled Congress. Not once did he declare a land transfer an earmark, which says that his accusation has everything to do with politics and nothing to do with responsible lawmaking.
Why did this land transfer require Congressional authorization?
A clause in the Airport and Airways Development Act of 1970 states that property no longer being used for airport purposes automatically reverts back to Federal ownership, so this transfer required Congressional approval.
Why does the amendment contain a reference to an “amount” if there was no money involved?
As Mr. Pearce explained on the floor of the House, the reference to an “amount” is standard language for this type of legislation. In legislative terminology, it does not infer that money is changing hands. In this case, it refers only to a road that the developer agreed to build to make the exchange completely equitable so that it involves no money. Again, since no money was exchanged, this bill does not fit the definition of an earmark.
Why did Congressman Pearce sponsor the amendment?
Congressman Pearce was approached by Senator Bingaman and asked to sponsor this amendment, which deals with land in his district. The FAA had already approved the transfer, but decided the decision required congressional approval. The Senate approved the amendment, and Congressman Pearce reached across the aisle to work with Representatives Lujan and Heinrich to approve the transfer. The transfer was initiated and led by Doña Ana County.