(WASHINGTON) — Houston-area lawmakers are asking Congress to spend almost $2 billion next year for favored Texas projects ranging from a $150 million investment in Houston-area light rail and buses, to $5 million for preservation of the battleship USS Texas.
The 207 publicly disclosed earmarks have been posted on lawmakers’ Web sites early in the budget process in the latest sign of attempted spending reform in the nation’s capital.
The earmarks by Texas’ lawmakers and other House members across the country give voters an early glimpse into lawmakers’ spending priorities.
The various bids for federal spending run the gamut.
Reps. Gene Green, D-Houston, and Ted Poe, R-Humble, joined forces across party lines to ask Congress for the $5 million contribution to a $29 million effort to put the USS Texas on dry land to help preserve the World War I-era dreadnought and tourist attraction.
Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, is looking for $2 million to bring a state-of-the-art wireless network to the Ellington Field Air National Guard fighter squadron that counted George W. Bush among its pilots 40 years ago.
For flood control along Brays Bayou, Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, wants almost $29 million. He’s also asked for another $6 million to bolster Texas’ border sheriffs’ efforts against “illegal crossings” by undocumented immigrants.
The lawmakers’ wish lists are separate from the line-by-line spending requests due from President Obama in early May for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
Obama has made earmark reform a hallmark of his new administration to combat projects that he says “have been inserted at the 11th hour, without review, and sometimes without merit, in order to satisfy the political or personal agendas of a given legislator, rather than the public interest.”
A different outcome?
The process has been thrown open to greater scrutiny, but the spending may end up being the same as lawmakers fight for their district’s share of federal largesse.
“During these serious economic times, it is important to protect the integrity of the process and to assure the proper use of taxpayers’ money,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston. But the veteran lawmaker emphasizes she will continue to take steps to “ensure that much-needed dollars are brought back to the people of the 18th Congressional District.”: : NOTHING FOR SMALL BUSINESS.
In fact, Jackson Lee is pressing for $150 million for Houston-area light rail and replacement buses — and $88 million to dredge and maintain the Houston Ship Channel.
Hurricane evacuation improvements are on the list of Rep. Ron Paul, R-Lake Jackson, who wants at least $63.5 million to rebuild the Bluewater highway hurricane evacuation route between Brazoria and Galveston counties and to fix a “pinch point” along the hurricane evacuation route in Baytown at the intersection of Highway 146 and Spur 330.
“Not only do these intersections create a bottleneck for evacuees, they also make it difficult for local emergency personnel to cross while preparing for and responding to an approaching emergency,” Paul argued in his request.
The largest requests — 40 all together — come from Rep. Al Green, D-Houston. His $464 million projects list includes $89 million for dredging and maintenance of the Ship Channel and $15 million for a wind energy center at University of Houston: NOTHING FOR SMALL BUSINESS.
Only Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, publicly announced that he won’t be requesting earmarks this year because the practice has been so “susceptible to waste, fraud and abuse.”
There’s no guarantee that the House Appropriations Committee will approve the requests — or that the committee’s approval assures eventual approval by the full House or Senate.