Spending bill contains funding for many Valley earmarks

WASHINGTON — San Joaquin Valley earmarks are alive and well in a huge spending bill about to be signed by President Barack Obama.

After a flurry of reform rhetoric, lawmakers slid several thousand targeted spending projects into the $447 billion package that's now secured final House and Senate approval. Obama could sign the legislation within days.

The omnibus appropriations bill funds dozens of federal agencies through Fiscal 2010. Critics call it bloated. Defenders consider it essential, citing money for local projects ranging from Fresno freeways to Stanislaus County police radios.

"I am always pleased to obtain these funds for our community," stated Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced. "They provide a significant and direct means of improving the quality of life for our residents."

Cardoza and Reps. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, and Jim Costa, D-Fresno, all requested local earmarks, as they have in previous years. In one successful reform, the names of earmark requesters are included within the 1,300-plus-page package.

More aggressive reform efforts, including some long-shot proposals to eliminate earmarks altogether, fell short. Neither Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, or Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, requested earmarks this year.

"The congressman feels there's far too much federal spending going on at this time and wants to take any opportunity to rein in the deficit," Radanovich's press secretary, Spencer Pederson, said Monday.

The federal government ran a $236 billion surplus in 2000. Driven by war spending, tax cuts, recession and domestic program expansions, the government currently is running a $1.4 trillion deficit.

The earmarks come in several forms and can be an object lesson in practical politics.

Many successful earmark requests are supported by both a House and Senate member. The funding bill, for instance, includes $800,000 for work on State Route 180 near Fresno. Costa joined in the request with Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

In other cases, lawmakers fly solo in their earmark efforts.

Costa, for instance, was the sole member of Congress to request the $300,000 provided Kings County for an emergency communications system. He was likewise the only member to seek the $150,000 provided to a group called Springboard for Improving Schools, which will assist with teacher training in the region between Fresno and Bakersfield.

In a similar vein, Cardoza was the sole representative to request the $425,000 provided for a math-and-science college preparatory program to be run in Merced County.

Often, earmarks reflect ongoing projects that motivate funding requests every year.

The funding package, for instance, includes an additional $300,000 for a Stanislaus County "interoperability" project to enhance the ability of different law enforcement agencies to communicate with one another with a common radio system. The project is a perennial priority for county officials in their lobbying visits to Capitol Hill.

Like many earmarks, moreover, the Stanislaus County project received less than local officials asked for. In March, officials said they needed $2.5 million.

"We just really need to rebuild our radio system," Modesto Police Chief Roy Wasden said during the March lobbying trip.

The next congressional step will be final approval of a $626 billion defense spending bill, whose myriad earmarks have not yet been made public.

Other earmarks in the bill about to be signed by Obama include:

$520,000 for a Castle Airport instrument landing system. The money will pay for installation of a system for the airport's Runway 13, designed to help pilots land in inclement weather.

$341,000 for a feasibility study of flood control work along Orestimba Creek in Stanislaus County. The Army Corps of Engineers study has been underway a long time.

$10 million for the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. The money will help retrofit heavy vehicles and replace on-road and off-road vehicles, in an effort to cut emissions.