Peoria Journal Star
December 14, 2006
Area projects in jeopardy as earmarks frozen
Funding for Glen Oak Zoo's second phase,
OSF project and others on hold
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Supporters of local projects, from
the Glen Oak Zoo in Peoria to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential
Library in Springfield, have had their hopes of federal funding
for this year dashed.
The bad news came this week when incoming Democratic
congressional leaders announced plans to kill "earmarks" until
Sept. 30, the end of the 2007 federal budget year.
Earmarks are funds designated by lawmakers for local projects
without competition - what critics call "pork."
The decision "puts a big kink" in plans to construct the next
phase of a new Africa exhibit at Glen Oak Zoo, said Jan
Schweitzer, Peoria Zoological Society director of development. The
society is in charge of raising money to expand the
zoo. The announcement kills the zoo's chances of receiving
$500,000 that was included in a House-passed bill at the request
of Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria. The Senate never voted on the bill.
"This will hurt us a little bit," acknowledged Schweitzer, who
said the zoo wants to raise up to $7 million for a new visitors'
center and an African "lodge," a key feature of the new exhibit.
The society is trying to raise $32.1 million to increases the
size of the zoo from 7 acres to 24 acres. The expanded zoo will
feature 100 species of animals with 150 large animals on exhibit.
Currently, the zoo has 73 species, with 100 large animals on
At the Lincoln library, the decision eliminates the hopes for
funding to build a new storage building but won't affect
day-to-day operation of the library-museum complex, said
spokeswoman Jill Burwitz.
"It's certainly something we would love to have" she said.
The Senate Appropriations Committee had included $1 million for
the Lincoln library, but the full Senate never passed the bill.
The House included $300,000 for the library.
Grappling with budget problems, Democratic leaders earlier this
week announced plans to pass a single funding bill to carry the
federal government until the start of the 2008 budget year.
"There will be no congressional earmarks," Rep. David Obey, D-Wis.,
and Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W. Va., said in a joint statement released
late Monday. They head the House and Senate appropriations
The Republican-led Congress adjourned last week after failing
to pass nine of 11 funding bills for fiscal 2007, which began Oct.
1. Instead, Congress passed a stopgap measure to keep the federal
government running at last year's levels until February - the same
time that the budget process for 2008 is supposed to start and
President Bush is expected to ask Congress for more money for the
war in Iraq.
"There is no good way out of the fiscal chaos left behind by
the outgoing Congress," Obey and Byrd said.
They added that earmarks included in this year's bills will be
eligible for consideration in 2008 after reforms in the earmarking
process are made.
Speaking to reporters in Springfield Wednesday, LaHood, a
member of the House Appropriations Committee, said he is
disappointed with the Democratic leaders' decision.
"There was a lot of money for Illinois in that budget," said
LaHood, adding that he has been passing the bad news to people in
his district, which includes the Peoria and Springfield areas.
"They're good projects. They're projects that wouldn't
ordinarily get funded because people don't have the resources to
do it," LaHood said.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., sits on the Senate Appropriations
Committee and is a strong supporter of earmarks. Nonetheless, he
supports the incoming chairmen's decision to temporarily block
"I'm confident that the reforms we are putting in place will
lead to greater accountability and transparency and help restore
the trust of the American people in the federal spending process,"
Durbin wrote in a letter explaining his position to his
constituents. He also pledged to continue to support worthy
projects in Illinois.
White House Budget Director Rob Portman called the overall
budget decision "disappointing."
"There's still more than nine months remaining in the fiscal
year, and we believe that we should be working through the
remaining bills to achieve the best results possible for the
American people," said Portman.
Longtime earmark critics say taxpayers will benefit in the long
"This is going to enable projects and programs to award funding
based on project merit rather than political muscle," said Steve
Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. "Most
Americans would like to see that their tax dollars are spent
wisely and efficiently. Instead, what we've seen in the past is
members of Congress steering dollars back to their pet projects
and their pet programs."
He noted that most earmarks take money from other projects
rather than adding to the overall funding level. Earmarks also are
criticized for the secrecy that surrounds them.
Earmarks came under increased scrutiny this past year when
former Rep. Randy Cunningham, R-Calif., went to prison for taking
bribes in exchange for earmarking funds for defense contractors.
Some local earmarks were approved this year in the defense and
homeland security funding bills, which were the only ones to pass
both the House and Senate and to be signed into law.
Other local projects that were slated for funding in House
bills that never passed the Senate include:
- $900,000 for the Children's Hospital of Illinois at OSF Saint
Francis Medical Center in Peoria for an ongoing construction
- $1.7 million for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete
construction of the East Peoria Flood Control Project.
- $500,000 for Lakeview Regional Museum for the proposed new
Downtown Peoria regional museum. (The Senate committee included
- $500,000 for Bradley University's renovation of Westlake
- $300,000 for Heartland Community Health Clinic equipment and
- $250,000 for continued construction of the Peoria NEXT
- $200,000 for improvements to Bel-Wood Nursing Home in Peoria
- $100,000 for Illinois State University for Tapping Future
- $400,000 for the Illinois River Basin Restoration project.
- $500,000 for the Corps to complete a flood control plan along
the Mississippi and Illinois rivers.
- $100,000 for Lincoln College to provide new ways for teachers
to reach today's students.
- $1 million for construction of a new water treatment facility
in Virginia, Ill., in rural Cass County.
The list of projects was provided by LaHood's office.
Dori Meinert can be reached at (202) 737-7686 or email@example.com.
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