Politics & Government

Fresno mayor roams D.C. in search of federal money

WASHINGTON — Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin this week is seeking the kind of federal help that might soon become harder to find.

On Thursday, even as her fellow Republicans called for cutbacks in federal domestic spending, Swearengin lobbied on behalf of Fresno's government grant applications. City officials want funding for high-speed rail, transportation, housing and other priorities.

"The competition is so tough that you have to do everything possible to bring attention to your projects," Swearengin said.

One of 50 municipal leaders attending a U.S. Conference of Mayors national conference this week, Swearengin is also taking time to lobby Congress and the Obama administration. The meetings with officials from the Transportation Department and the Federal Railroad Administration, among others, range across topics from the parochial to the regional.

Swearengin, for instance, is helping promote the California High-Speed Rail Authority's overall application for $1 billion in additional high-speed rail funds. She is one of seven California mayors attending the two-day conference this week.

The state already has received $2.25 billion for high-speed rail work, from an economic stimulus package.

In addition to the statewide funding, Swearengin said she's "making the case for our segment" of the high-speed rail project, slated eventually to connect Los Angeles with the San Francisco Bay Area via the San Joaquin Valley.

"We're going to pursue every avenue," Swearengin said, "but we don't assume a federal check will be forthcoming, as some other cities do."

Swearengin was speaking in the lobby of the St. Regis Hotel, a few blocks from the White House and several minutes removed from a congressional Republican press conference that could significantly reshape federal funding for cities like Fresno.

As part of what House GOP leaders called a "Pledge to America," Republicans are promising to "stop out-of-control spending and reduce the size of government" if they regain control of Congress following the November election. This includes rolling back much domestic spending to 2008 levels and blocking future increases.

The GOP agenda also includes reclaiming unspent money from the stimulus package. As of June 30, the Transportation Department had yet to commit about $10 billion from its stimulus allocation.

The Republican agenda published Thursday left many other budget details unspecified, and its long-term prospects remain uncertain. Swearengin would not be drawn into a discussion about how the GOP congressional agenda might affect Fresno's aspirations, other than to say that "our priority is to be smart with the money (we) have."

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