Canton Repository

June 14, 2006

Regula funnels millions into Stark projects

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON - A congressional committee Tuesday approved two spending bills that include millions of dollars in federal funds for local projects in the Stark County area.

Beneficiaries of the funding, which is not yet final, are in Canton, Massillon, Alliance and other nearby cities. They include Aultman Hospital, Stark State College of Technology and the Massillon Museum, among many other organizations.

Much of the funding is contained in a $141.9 billion domestic spending bill that provides federal funding for health care, education and job training. The House Appropriations Committee approved the projects as it sent the spending bill off to an expected vote in the full House next week.

As the domestic spending bill passed Tuesday, Democrats on the committee succeeded in drawing enough Republican support to pass an amendment that would raise the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 an hour over two years.

Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, who chairs the subcommittee that authored the legislation, argued and voted against the increase, which he said was a policy decision that did not belong in a spending bill.

After the vote, Regula predicted that the wage increase would be stripped out of the bill when it reached the House floor under a technical argument that the minimum wage is a policy issue that cannot be addressed by an appropriations committee.

The inclusion of the local projects in the legislation marks the most recent occasion when Regula has used his clout as one of the most powerful appropriators in Congress to direct federal spending to his congressional district.

The projects, commonly called earmarks, are placed in legislation by lawmakers as a way to bypass normal federal agency procedures for distributing money based on formulas and competition.

In the past, earmarks were put in the Regula subcommittee bill shortly before it went to the full House and Senate for final approval.

But this year, the projects were attached to the legislation much earlier to give lawmakers and the public more time to review them before final passage.

News stories and criminal investigations in the past year have revealed how some lawmakers and lobbyists kept earmarks hidden from public view and used them as part of a bribery and corruption scheme.

Critics of the practice refer to earmarks as pork, which they say is wasteful spending.

Regula is a longtime defender of the practice, which he said allows lawmakers to use their knowledge of their districtís needs to determine where money is best spent. In addition, he said federal money gives a project recognition and helps attract private funds.

Few details of the projects, beyond the recipients of the funding and the amount of the funding, were available at press time Tuesday.