Federal spending in San Joaquin Valley still trails rest of U.S.

WASHINGTON — The San Joaquin Valley still lags behind the rest of the country when it comes to getting a piece of the federal pie, new spending reports show.

Thanks largely to a big economic stimulus package, federal spending in the Valley increased by about 6 percent between fiscal 2008 and fiscal 2009. Nationwide, though, federal domestic spending increased 16 percent.

"The Valley is growing at a much faster rate than other areas, but the federal funding is not reflecting that," John Lehn, president of the Kings County Economic Development Corp., said Tuesday.

Some California counties in particular underscore the gap between haves and have-mores.

San Francisco, home to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, enjoyed a stunning 66 percent boost in federal spending between 2008 and 2009, the newly available Census Bureau reports show. Much of the city's boom came from new procurement contracts.

"You have to look at where the politicians are," said Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, when asked about San Francisco's funding success.

Rural Mariposa County, by contrast, saw a decline in overall federal spending, while the rest of the region between San Joaquin and Tulare counties squeezed out relatively small increases.

The contrast becomes particularly striking at the individual level. Federal spending in San Francisco last year amounted to $21,473 per resident. In Merced County, federal spending amounted to $5,896 per resident.

"It's a continuation of a trend; it's not surprising that it's less," noted Lehn, who is also board chairman of the Central California Economic Development Corp.

The reasons, though, don't always boil down to pork or raw politics.

Demographics and defense account for much of the perennial spending gap, noted Jeffrey Michael, director of the University of the Pacific's Business Forecasting Center in Stockton.

"We're a very young region, and we don't have a lot of retirees, which accounts for a huge amount of federal spending." Michael said Tuesday. "The other big thing we're missing is defense. If you have a shipyard or build fighter jets, then you'll do very well."

Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security payments amount to nearly half of all the federal spending nationwide.

Overall, federal spending in California jumped a little more than 15 percent in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2009. This kept the state on pace with the rest of the country.

The national increase in spending is the largest since the Census Bureau began compiling the annual Consolidated Federal Funds Reports in 1983. The reports cover grants, salaries, contracts, farm subsidies and Social Security payments, among other forms of federal spending.

The latest report, issued Tuesday, includes money distributed through a $787 billion economic stimulus plan approved in February 2009 over Republican opposition. The report, however, does not itemize individual projects, and only a portion of the stimulus package had been spent by the end of fiscal 2009.

"I would expect in the future we might see greater parity," predicted Lehn, citing upcoming plans for a major high-speed rail system.

Still, it would take many more such grants or contracts to bring the San Joaquin Valley up to par with other regions.

In Stanislaus County, federal spending amounted to $5,864 per resident, and in Fresno County federal spending amounted to $6,365 per resident.

Nationwide, by contrast, total federal spending in 2009 was the equivalent of $10,548 per person. Alaska led all states with per-capita federal spending that was nearly twice the national average, a legacy of the late Ted Stevens, the longtime top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee.