WASHINGTON — San Joaquin Valley Democrats are asking for more than $344 million in earmarks this year, while their Republican colleagues see advantage in asking for none.
Led by Rep. Jerry McNerney of Pleasanton, who accounted for more than half of all the regional funding requests, the Valley lawmakers seek money for everything from Junior ROTC in Ripon to road-widening in Hanford.
This week, all House members had to make their funding requests public. Now comes the really heavy lifting, as lawmakers and local officials try to convert requests into hard dollars. For some, this means cross-country trips and face-to-face meetings.
"It's important to be present in the offices and raise the profile of the city," Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin said Thursday.
Reps. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, and Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, are joining most of their GOP colleagues in shunning earmark requests this year. Although they say they will help local official secure grants, the Republicans contend earmarks aggravate the $1.4 trillion federal budget deficit.
Politically, Republicans also hope to distinguish themselves from Democrats in advance of the November elections.
"For millions of Americans, the earmark process in Congress has become a symbol of a broken Washington," House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio said earlier this month, in announcing the Republican anti-earmark stance.
Swearengin was making the Washington rounds this week, accompanied by city lobbyist Len Simon and the city's government affairs manager, Katie Stevens. The trio spent Tuesday on Capitol Hill and Wednesday at various federal agencies, focusing both on the city's earmark priorities and potential grant applications.
Supported by Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, Fresno officials are asking for $2 million to prepare a high-speed rail maintenance facility, $1 million for a downtown public market, $1.4 million for video cameras and other high-tech police tools and $3.4 million for other police support.
"Our requests are modest," Swearengin said.
Heavy snow forced the cancellation of a broader Fresno County lobbying trip planned for February, and it has not been rescheduled. Representatives from other Valley counties, including Stanislaus and Tulare, completed their own lobbying trips earlier this year.
The individual city and county wish lists, in turn, become the foundation for the menu of requests made by House members. Although definitions vary, an earmark is generally considered to be a line item in an appropriations bill that directs money to a specific cause or recipient.
For instance, Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, is requesting $400,000 to install solar panels at the Merced County Fairground's multipurpose building in Los Banos. That's an earmark.
All told, Cardoza is asking for about $56 million in earmarks. Some of this, including a $10 million request for combating San Joaquin Valley air pollution, overlaps with identical requests made by Costa and McNerney.
Costa's earmark requests add up to about $105 million. Half of this would be targeted toward work associated with restoring the San Joaquin River; in particular, improvements to the Madera and Friant-Kern canals.
McNerney, whose district includes portions of San Joaquin County, is asking for $183 million in earmarks. Many of the individual requests are for precisely $1 million, such as the one for a bikeway connecting Ripon and Manteca. Other potential earmark beneficiaries, like the Port of Stockton, land an earmark every year.
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