Earmarks” for ‘07 projects erased

GOP-controlled Congress adjourns without passing most budget bills, hitting Colo. hard

By Anne C. Mulkern

Denver Post Staff Writer


Article Last Updated:12/25/2006 09:57:35 PM MST

Washington – The National Sports Center for the Disabled hoped to expand its therapeutic skiing program in Winter Park next year with $500,000 from the federal government.

The University of Northern Colorado wanted to beef up its nursing curriculum with $500,000 in federal funds.

And the Colorado Department of Transportation planned to press ahead on its list of multiyear road projects with millions of dollars it hoped Congress would send.

All those plans are suddenly in question.

Millions of dollars expected to flow into Colorado from the federal government in 2007 for road improvements, renewable-energy research, school programs, water projects, city needs, charity help and more isn’t coming anytime soon.

“It’s just a nightmare. It’s an absolute nightmare,” said Jennifer Webster, CDOT’s director of government relations.

Congress failed to pass nine out of 11 major funding measures before adjourning this month, with Republican leaders opting instead for a resolution that pays most of the government bills at 2006 levels.

That means new projects slated for 2007 aren’t receiving funding, and many existing programs won’t get any increase in funding previously planned for fiscal year 2007, which started in October.

Democratic leaders who take control of Congress next month plan to extend the temporary funding mechanism until September, starting fresh with the fiscal year 2008 budgets. If that happens, many spending measures to benefit Colorado won’t get acted on for months.

Much of the funds were to come through the controversial “earmarking” process, in which individual lawmakers direct money to their districts for work projects, research, equipment and other types of spending.

Spending on earmarks has ballooned, costing taxpayers $33 billion in 2005. Democrats plan to re-evaluate earmarks next year and, for now, have declared the funding stream shut off.

The impact of Congress’ decision cuts across Colorado.

The budget measures that never passed had allocations to Colorado recipients that included:

$4.2 million to Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport in Jefferson County for air traffic control facility repair work;

$1 million to the Colorado Center for Sustainable Energy at Colorado School of Mines;

$675,000 to the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District for infrastructure improvements;

$300,000 to The Children’s Hospital in Denver for an electronic medical records system;

$150,000 to Aims Community College in Greeley for equipment to train medical workers; and

$100,000 to Pueblo to build and renovate recreational facilities and improve parks.

Because the budget bills never passed Congress, the spending amounts for each item could have changed, or the item could have been eliminated.

In addition to the earmarks, failing to pass the 2007 budget bills also means the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden won’t receive expected increased funding.

NREL was slated to receive a funding increase between $6 and $10 million. The lab also would have seen additional money from dedicated funding for solar, wind, hydrogen and biomass research.

Some of those due to receive money, like CDOT, are re-evaluating priorities and haven’t decided how to handle the shortfall.

Others have no choice but to put on hold the plans they had for the money.

The nonprofit National Sports Center for the Disabled planned to use the money from its earmark to open lessons to another 6,000 people, a 50 percent increase. The program is booked solid all season, said president Gary Pollitt.

“There’s no lack of demand for what we do,” Pollitt said. “If we had the equipment, we would have the students.”

(William Dean Singleton, publisher of The Denver Post, is on the center’s board.)

Denver Rescue Mission hoped to get a total $600,000 through two earmarks. Of that, $400,000 would have helped expand the Harvest Farm facility in Wellington, a rehabilitation program for addicted men.

“We’re not just going to turn out the lights,” said Brad Meuli, the mission’s president and chief executive officer. The charity will seek other sources of revenue, he said, and will struggle to meet demand.

Members of Colorado’s congressional delegation who asked for the earmarks expressed disappointment that they likely won’t be funded. They had more partisan feelings about why it’s happening.

“In reviewing the Democratic-proposed plan, I am convinced that this action will have serious negative consequences for Colorado,” said Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo.

Democrats have no choice but to take this approach because Republican leaders failed to pass budget bills this year, said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver.

“Republican leadership abrogated their responsibility by kicking it out and throwing it in our laps,” DeGette said.