View Mobile Site

Ask the Expert

Signal Photos


Much ado about $410B

Spending bill receives criticism but delivers more than $6 million in earmarks to local legislators

Posted: March 12, 2009 1:33 a.m.
Updated: March 12, 2009 4:30 a.m.
President Barack Obama signed off Wednesday on a $410 billion spending bill, which Congressman Howard "Buck" McKeon was quoted last week as calling "not the example of fiscal restraint we need."

McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, did not vote in favor of the bill, but he did have a hand in including earmarks totalling more than $6 million.

Earmarks comprised about 1 percent of the bill, which Obama said will keep the government running through September.

Among the earmarks requested solely by McKeon is $1,148,000 for the Castaic Lake Water Agency to clean up the former Whittaker-Bermite property and $238,000 for College of the Canyons' university center, according to information provided by Taxpayers for Common Sense.

The 12 earmarks requested by McKeon total $4,174,500. With the addition of earmarks he requested with other lawmakers, the grand total is 17 earmarks worth $6,550,500.

McKeon did not vote for the spending bill because he considered it a "bloated" proposal, said Lindsey Mask, McKeon's spokeswoman in Washington, D.C.

"He believes in accountability," she said, and added McKeon requested earmarks because he did not want to see other districts receive funding that could go to his constituents.

"I think it's hypocritical to talk down earmarks ... but at the same time put them in," said Michael Cruz, a local Democrat who ran for Santa Clarita City Council in 2005. "Walk the walk."

Regarding the earmark process in general, he said: "It needs to be reformed. (But) if it wasn't for earmarks, we wouldn't be having additional funds for the cross-valley connector."

McKeon and U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., requested $575,000 for the completion of the 8-1/2-mile road under construction to link Highway 14 with the junction of Interstate 5 and Highway 126.

"We're very happy," city spokeswoman Gail Ortiz said. "It's very much needed."

She said the funds will go toward completing the last leg of the connector, a bridge over the Santa Clara River linking Golden Valley and Newhall Ranch roads.

McKeon was joined by Reps. Lois Capps, D-Calif., and Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., in securing $239,000 for an Army Corps of Engineers study on the Santa Clara River Watershed.

"Like everyone else, (I) hope the bill helps get the budget back on track," Cruz said, and added he has been encouraged to see McKeon show some support for Obama and hopes Santa Clarita's congressman continues to reach across the aisle.

One of McKeon's earmarks designated $333,000 for a helipad at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital.

The valley's only hospital has been without a helipad for several years and needs one to retain its trauma-center status.

"I'm in favor of those," local Republican Bill Kennedy said regarding earmarks benefiting the Santa Clarita Valley. "Quite frankly, I don't think an earmark is good or bad until you look at what's behind it."

McKeon, who has one of the largest congressional districts in the state, also secured funding for projects in the Antelope and Victor valleys.

That includes $300,000 for Lancaster's Court-Appointed Special Advocates program and $475,000 for work on Rancho Vista Boulevard in Palmdale.

The president acknowledged Wednesday the storm of criticism from watchdog groups, talk show hosts and many Republican lawmakers - including some who have obtained earmarks - who call them wasteful and politically motivated.

Obama, too, has criticized them as overused and subject to abuse.

Proposing new safeguards, he asked Congress to require that any earmark for a for-profit company be subject to competitive bids.

He also said he would work with Congress to eliminate earmarks or other specific items in spending bills that he believes serve no legitimate purpose. But he did not specify how.

Congress has wrestled for years with how to regulate earmarks, the targeted spending items for construction projects, weapons systems, research grants and thousands of other programs sought by Senate and House members.

Voters tend to disdain earmarks in the abstract, but they often embrace the money and jobs earmarks produce close to home.

Many lawmakers base their re-election bids on the goodies they steer to constituents, and efforts to eliminate earmarks have repeatedly met strong resistance in both parties.

Nearly all earmarks serve some public purpose, but abuses have included tying earmarks to kickbacks, including those that sent former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., to prison in 2006.

Congress tightened regulations after that, including requirements that requests for earmarks be made public and subject to scrutiny. The number has decreased since then, but they still totaled 7,991, costing $5.5 billion, in the "omnibus" spending bill Obama signed Wednesday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Most Popular Articles

There are no articles at this time.
Commenting not available.
Commenting is not available.


Powered By
Morris Technology
Please wait ...