WASHINGTON — Two San Joaquin Valley Democratic lawmakers are asking for more than one-third of a billion dollars in earmarked spending, newly public filings show.
The money could pay for everything from Fresno State agricultural research to a University of California at Merced solar program. And even as budget reformers decry the continuing use of earmarked spending, the Valley Democrats justify every request.
"Federal appropriations are a valuable tool for funding infrastructure projects in our community," declared Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced. "Unfortunately, 'earmarks' have become synonymous with wasteful government spending in recent years."
The political uproar over budget earmarks, particularly over projects like Alaska's multimillion-dollar "Bridge to Nowhere," have pushed members of Congress in several directions. Some, including Reps. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, and Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, say they will forego seeking budget earmarks for the time being.
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Other House members face new transparency rules, requiring them to make public on their congressional Web pages specific funding requests and justifications.
Cardoza, for one, has posted earmark requests totaling more than $179 million. They include $4.9 million for Stanislaus County emergency communications, $300,000 for a study of San Joaquin Valley rail service and $3 million for a solar program initiative at U.C. Merced.
"It will forecast short-term solar power availability and will enable new technologies in the quest to increase renewable energy sources to the power grid," Cardoza stated in the written justification.
Other Cardoza requests include $1.9 million for a sewer line extension in the city of Ceres, $6 million for a Madera County groundwater recharge project and $10 million for a San Joaquin Valley air pollution control program.
The Madera County groundwater project marks one of the ironies of earmark reform. The legislation authorizing the county's groundwater project was championed by Radanovich, who has since taken a vow not to request earmarks like the kind that could get the project started.
"I will do everything I can to get it funded, outside of an earmark," Radanovich told The Bee earlier this year.
Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, is asking for more than $183 million worth of earmarks. They range from $7 million for a Fresno State agricultural research initiative to $3 million for a Kings County emergency communications system and $35 million for a Boston-based effort called the Center for Civic Education.
The latter provides civics texts and teacher training nationwide and is not limited to the San Joaquin Valley. It has a local angle, though, as former Fresno Unified School District board member Ruth Gadebusch is on the center's board of directors.
"The projects we've requested are all meritorious," Costa's spokesman Bret Rumbeck said Thursday. "They all will help the Valley one way or another."
The biggest-ticket requests for both Cardoza and Costa are for nationwide literacy and writing programs, and are not solely targeted at their own congressional districts.
Other Costa requests include $3.5 million for a Fresno County emergency communications system, $35 million for work related to San Joaquin River restoration and $4 million for an assortment of California pest control efforts.
The earmark requests were supposed to be published by last Friday. As of Wednesday, more than 50 House members still had not made the required notification, a Taxpayers for Common Sense survey found.
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