Granger claims bigger spending role as project back home needs money from D.C.

Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, leaves a closed-door Republican strategy session at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, July 31, 2014.
Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, leaves a closed-door Republican strategy session at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, July 31, 2014. AP

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Fort Worth Rep. Kay Granger is moving into a bigger role on Congress’s spending panel — as officials warn a major economic development and flood control project in her district desperately need more federal funding to stay on track.

Granger, 75, this week won a tough fight to become the GOP’s highest-ranking official on the House Appropriations Committee, the first Republican woman to hold the position of the panel’s ranking member.

The move is welcome news to proponents of the Fort Worth’s Panther Island project, which this month received notice that it was not included in the Army Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works Plan for the second year in a row.

“We have the funding to finish our part of the responsibility, and I think now that Kay is in the position she’s in we’ll see a federal government more receptive to sending the funds down,” said Jim Lane, a member of the Tarrant Regional Water District board that is overseeing the project. “I think everybody breathed a sigh of relief when we found out that Kay had secured that position.”

Granger is a top proponent of the project, which seeks to reroute the Trinity River and create an urban park. Her son, J.D. Granger, receives a taxpayer-funded salary to oversee it.

“[This project] was Kay’s vision to start with… it’s going to change Fort Worth much for the better,” said Lane.

Panther Island is a $1.16 billion plan to re-route the Trinity River and redirect flood waters around the low-lying areas north of downtown. Here's what you should know.

Officials in Washington warn the path to funding Panther Island, which needs at least $26 million in 2020 to stay on schedule, could require a lot more than Granger’s clout.

The earmark process could possibly have helped, but Republicans did away with it in 2011. Earmarks had allowed lawmakers to include funding for specific projects in legislation.

Though Panther Island was approved for up to $526 million in matching federal funds in 2016, President Donald Trump’s administration now says it doesn’t meet the standards to be considered a priority in the Army Corps’ Civil Works program, which actually provides the funds for water and development projects deemed to have lifesaving and environmental benefits to the nation.

Though Panther Island received money in the past, it’s now competing with other projects seeking funding totaling $60 billion and $80 billion. This year’s the Army Corps’ Civil Works plan doled out roughly $7.3 billion.

“Ultimately, [the White House budget office] is going to do what it feels it needs to do,” said Mike Strachn, an expert on water resources who previously served as Congressional liaison for the Corps of Engineers’ civil works programs.

Of lawmakers’ past efforts to overrule the White House’s authority, he added: “Having congressional attention is a good idea… [but] historically it’s not been terribly effective.”

Democrats are already discussing the possibility of bringing back earmarks, which could help the Panther Island project Granger has vowed to see completed.

In her own statement, however, Granger pointed to a different mission in her new role, noting that she looks forward to “fighting for conservative values and holding the Democrats accountable.”

Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, says she worked closely with Defense Secretary James Mattis on the defense appropriations bill she shepherded through Congress, Sept. 26, 2018.

Granger, who currently oversees the appropriations committee’s panel on defense spending, has had success steering money to other causes in Fort Worth.

This year the defense budget she crafted placed orders for 93 Lockheed Martin F-35 aircraft, 16 more than the Pentagon’s request. Parts of the aircraft are built in hundreds of congressional districts, but they’re assembled in Fort Worth.

Future budgets will have to account for the operation and maintenance of those aircraft, even though Democrats, who will control the House as of Jan. 3, are less bullish on spending for defense. The Senate will continue to have a Republican majority.

“Congresswoman Granger has a track record of strong support for national defense and a deep understanding and appreciation for the U.S. military and its allied partnerships around the globe,” Lockheed Martin said in a statement about her promotion.

In her new role, Granger will serve alongside incoming Chairwoman Rep. Nita Lowey, D- New York, with whom she has a close relationship.

Fellow Fort Worth Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Texas, on Friday praised Granger as a “strong and capable leader,” adding that “her new leadership post is good news for our state.”

Andrea Drusch is the Washington Correspondent for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. She is a Corinth, Texas, native and graduate of the Bob Schieffer School of Journalism at Texas Christian University. She returns home frequently to visit family, get her fix of Fuzzy’s Tacos and cheer on the Horned Frogs.