New bill has earmarks for Placer County

By: Jon Brines, Special to the Press Tribune
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A new bill circulating through Congress will include funding priorities for two Placer County road projects in Lincoln and Roseville but a Rocklin project will be left out, according to California’s 4th District U.S. Representative Tom McClintock. The Surface Transportation Authorization of 2009 provides for the funding of federal transportation projects across the nation. Most of the funds are allocated through block-grants but according to congressional staffers money has been set aside for earmarks as well. McClintock has recommend four projects for the bill totaling $34-million including $4-million to add two more lanes to the Lincoln Bypass on Highway 65 and $2.5-million for expansion of the Eureka Road interchange on Interstate 80 in Roseville. Taxpayers for Commonsense, a D.C.- based national non-partisan budget watchdog group, has come out against the earmarks in the bill. In the transportation bill of 2005, the infamous earmark for the ‘bridge to nowhere was decried nationwide as the epitome of government waste. “McClintock is requesting earmarks from our perspective,” said the Vice President of Taxpayers for Commonsense Steve Ellis. David Williams of the Citizens Against Government Waste said McClintock has maintained his pledge against earmarks so far but the jury is still out on the new bill. “The projects in this bill could still make our pork book this year,” Williams said. McClintock said the projects in the authorization bill are not earmarks. “This is a normal transportation appropriation,” said McClintock. ”I think earmarks are corrupting the congress and circumventing our normal appropriations process.” Kathryn Mathews, the executive director of the El Dorado Transportation Commission said she met with McClintock and he has now pledged $5 million for construction on the Western Placerville interchanges on Highway 50. “I would call them high priority projects,” Mathews said. “It is, in the old language, that dirty word ‘earmark’ but we are hypersensitive to that now. So we are calling them high priority projects.” In March, the commission received an earmark of $570,000 originally requested by McClintock’s predecessor Former Rep. John Doolittle. Mathews admits she’s been confused by McClintock’s stance on earmarks. “We’ve been told McClintock would not entertain any project requests period,” Mathews said. “Then two days before the requests were due to be submitted we got a call saying, ‘go ahead and submit if you want.’” Ellis said he’s not surprised by the confusion. “Congressman can always work their way around it,” Ellis said. “At the end of the day, earmarks create a corrupt system. Essentially when lawmakers direct funding for their particular parochial projects it undercuts funding for more important activities.” The city of Rocklin wanted to be a part of the bill but had their request for $2 million to finish the design of a $24 million Whitney interchange on Highway 65 turned down. “There was a limit to how many projects we could request,” McClintock said. “A project that exclusively benefits a local community, I believe, should be paid for by that local community. I set forth criteria that meets every conceivable definition of fiscal responsibility.” While it is still unclear how much federal money California’s 4th District will end up with if the bill becomes law the district could get between $1 million and $100 million for the congressman’s top priority projects, according to congressional staffers. One thing is for sure, Rocklin will be left out of the funding and for Vice Mayor Scott Yuill, he said he is hard pressed to support McClintock’s vision. “I want to support his cause to stop earmarks but these projects are important,” Yuill said. “He’s there to represent our district and if the money is available he’s got to get it. If he’s boxed himself into a position where philosophically he can’t take it then he’s a hypocrite.” Rocklin citizen and registered independent Ed Krumwiede said the process of letting Congressmen select individual projects should be eliminated in favor of 100 percent block-grant funding. “The local people should decide where the money is best used,” Krumwiede said. As for Rocklin’s Whitney interchange, without federal help its future is in doubt and no construction will begin without it. “How we will fill the funding gap is going to be a real problem in this economy,” said Mayor Peter Hill. “We have no answer to that right now.”