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Number of Pet Projects Declines, Slightly

WASHINGTON - The 2010 federal spending bills disclose $10.2 billion for pet projects inserted by members of Congress, a drop of nearly a third since 2008, an analysis of the bills shows.

The 9,297 "earmarks" reported in spending legislation for 2010 were down from 11,282 reported for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, according to data compiled by the non-partisan watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense. The 2009 earmarks were worth $14.3 billion.

Still, the spending bills contain billions of dollars for other special-interest programs that aren't reported as earmarks, says Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense. Ellis said his group found $4.9 billion worth of such undisclosed funding in last year's spending bills, for example, but hasn't finished its analysis of the latest bills.

"At least in the disclosed earmarks, there has been a haircut," Ellis said. "Although we would like to see a much deeper reduction, it's a small step, a shuffle, in the right direction."

Ellis also noted that the $787 billion economic stimulus package passed last year included billions of dollars for projects often funded with earmarks, such as highways, levees and federal buildings.

Congress required earmarks in the annual spending bills to be publicly listed for the first time in 2008. There were 11,234 worth $14.8 billion that year.

Still, Tom Schatz of Citizens Against Government Waste, another budget watchdog group, said lawmakers "don't follow all of their rules all of the time." For example, Schatz cited $3.2 billion in the Pentagon spending bill President Obama signed last month, including $2.5 billion for building C-17 cargo planes.

Although no one was listed as an earmark sponsor of the cargo planes, Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., issued a news release saying he worked to preserve the funding "against short-sighted efforts by the administration to eliminate the C-17."

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