Walz seeks millions in federal money for area
Prospects for funding aren’t good, congressman says
By Edward Felker
WASHINGTON — Rep. Tim Walz, D-Mankato, on Tuesday released a list of 47 "earmark" projects for which he has requested $211.5 million in 2009 appropriations, ranging from large highway and flood control projects to small, nonprofit social service programs.
The list includes $11.7 million for projects in Rochester, topped by $4.5 million for dredging Lake Zumbro and $4 million to extend 55th Street.
The congressman’s major roads request was for $20 million for six projects on U.S. 14 in Blue Earth, Nicollet, Waseca and Winona counties. "On the transportation side, Highway 14 is our No. 1 priority," he told reporters during a conference call.
Other regional requests include $35 million for the Lewis and Clark Rural Water System in southwestern Minnesota, northeastern Iowa and eastern South Dakota and a combined $70 million for Upper Mississippi river navigation and restoration projects. Those requests will overlap with similar requests from lawmakers representing states affected by those projects.
Walz is also seeking to direct $23.6 million to five Minnesota National Guard projects, including $16.6 million for the guard’s Mankato field maintenance facility and another $1 million for remodeling the Winona Army Reserve Center into a new veteran’s center.
In response to last August’s floods in southeastern Minnesota, Walz requested nearly $7.5 million for eight flood mitigation projects in Owatonna and another $656,600 for modernization of flood maps covering eight southeastern counties.
Walz requested $3 million for the National Child Protection Training Center at Winona State University, which he has championed. Walz this year sought a House inquiry into the Justice Department decision to pass over the center’s funding request in 2007 in favor of lower-ranked applications.
Walz said all of the projects were requested by elected officials or executives of nonprofits.
Walz said he "felt very strongly" about transparency in the earmark process, which has become a political flashpoint in Washington. Still, he initially released the list, as he did last year, without the amounts he requested. Late in the day, however, he reversed course in response to requests by reporters for details and posted a full list with amounts at his Web site, www.walz.house.gov.
His spokeswoman Meredith Salsbery said he released the amounts as an extra step to be open about the projects and said that lawmakers are not obligated by House rules to release earmarks information.
Walz acknowledged that the prospects for his requests are not good, given the negative publicity about earmark scandals and President Bush’s pledge to veto appropriations bills that exceed his 2009 budget proposal and do not cut total earmarks from 2008 levels. Last year lawmakers approved 11,610 projects sought by lawmakers at a cost of $17.2 billion, according to the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste.
Of those, 464 projects worth $3.4 billion were not disclosed prior to approval by Congress. With 21 projects worth $9.8 million last year, Walz ranked 339th in the House out of 434.
A number of lawmakers, including Rep. John Kline, R-Lakeville, have said they will not request earmarks this year, and the three major party presidential candidates have endorsed a one-year moratorium. This is Kline’s second year without requesting earmark projects.
Walz said he will continue to seek the money he outlined Tuesday but has told intended recipients they should not plan on approval, and if any are approved, they will likely be at lower amounts than requested.
"We’re still optimistic, but we tell people not to count on it. They’re going to have to do their budgeting accordingly without this ability to be there (for them)," he said.