Suburban appetite for pork knows no party boundaries

  • A multimillion dollar project to reduce flooding along the Des Plaines River is among the many earmarks, or pork projects, for the Chicago suburbs included in a proposed federal spending measure.

      A multimillion dollar project to reduce flooding along the Des Plaines River is among the many earmarks, or pork projects, for the Chicago suburbs included in a proposed federal spending measure. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

 
 
Published3/9/2009 12:03 AM

Pork projects in federal spending proposals have been a target of Republicans lately, but bringing home the bacon to the suburbs is a bipartisan affair.

A Daily Herald review of more than 50 Chicago-area earmarks totaling $62.4 million from suburban House members shows both local Republicans and Democrats share responsibility for "pork" in the much-criticized $410 billion federal budget spending measure now stalled in the Senate.

 

The breadth of the earmarks - from child obesity prevention to a commuter train project to flood control - underscores criticism that there's no rhyme or reason to what gets funded in this process. And on the other hand, backers say, it highlights how the debate over earmarks can often obscure the merits of the local projects.

"I feel that these are projects, any one of them, that I would be pleased to see on the front page of the paper," says U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, a Wheaton Republican representing the DuPage County-centered 6th District, of spending he sponsored.

Nationally, Republicans have blasted the Democratic spending measure for containing more than 8,500 earmarks, and President Barack Obama for agreeing to sign it despite campaigning against the largely unregulated funding practice.

"I think this is just out of control," House Republican Leader John Boehner said of the measure.

Critics say carving federal funds out of legislation for specific projects corrupts federal grant making with political decisions that skew funding priorities and inflate budgets.

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Earmarking also makes it possible for lawmakers to reward campaign contributors and lobbyists with direct federal grants, a process under scrutiny by investigators.

Suburban Republican Reps. Mark Kirk of Highland Park and Judy Biggert of Hinsdale have sworn off earmarking in recent years. "It is just not our job to wire a sole-source contract," Kirk says.

But supporters say lawmakers should be able to direct federal money to local projects. They say more transparency measures should alleviate concerns about corruption.

Bucking their party's condemnation of the practice, Roskam and Don Manzullo, a Rockford-area Republican, have more than $5.2 million in earmarks in the measure currently under fire.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Three suburban Democrats - Melissa Bean of Barrington, Bill Foster of Geneva and Jan Schakowsky of Evanston - have about $9 million in individual earmarks in the legislation.

Several big-ticket suburban measures were supported by multiple lawmakers, accounting for about $48 million. The tally does not include requests from Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the chamber, because a final measure had not yet passed the Senate.

Kirk argues that local earmarks may be worthwhile, but the process of obtaining them pushed him off the practice in recent years as waste and corruption were exposed. He is also concerned about legislative leaders holding earmarks over lawmakers to obtain votes on questionable measures.

"We would be able to get a lot (of earmarks)," Kirk says of the clout he has sitting on the House Appropriations Committee. "But then I would cede to even more of the corruption and waste."

Bean, who appears to have earmarked the most suburban money in the appropriations measure through the House, agrees the process provides opportunity for waste and corruption.

However, she argues it is important for lawmakers to be able to address local needs. She declined a request for an interview on the subject, but her spokesman said Bean has pushed for transparency measures for earmarks.

Roskam, meanwhile, says lawmakers know their district's need best and that is why he has not bowed to some party pressure to give up earmarking.

"I know the needs of my congressional district more than (does) a bureaucrat in a gray building on the seventh floor in Washington, D.C," he says.

Earmark requests are public under House rules adopted amid criticism about pork. Many lawmakers allow local groups to formally submit requests, which are then reviewed for merit by staff.

The local groups getting the money, for the most part, are grateful.

Bean's list includes $48,000 for a child obesity prevention program out of Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Lake Barrington and $552,000 to help build a hospice facility in Barrington.

"This is really what helped make the difference," Advocate spokesman Mike Deering said of the grant, which will allow the hospital to expand a child obesity education program from one grade in Wauconda schools to three.

Hospital nutritionists and physical trainers bring programs on eating and exercise habits to the school. Before the program started in 2006, 360 elementary-aged students passed the national fitness test. Last year, he said, nearly 1,000 passed.

The half-million dollars for the Barrington hospice will put funding over the edge for the planned $18.5 million facility, allowing work to get started soon, said Beth Raseman, development vice president for the Hospice of Northeastern Illinois. The bulk of the project, which will serve 1,100 patients a year, will be paid for with private donations. About $15 million has been raised so far.

"This is a way for someone like Melissa Bean to advocate for a local project that she feels is worthy," Raseman said.

Roskam's list includes $209,000 for the DuPage County Forest Preserve to help switch its vehicle fleet to run on alternative fuels. The money will be used to add ethanol and biodiesel pumps at the county's alternative fueling station, spokesman Bill Wiedner said. More than 150 of the preserve's 180 vehicles use alternative fuels.

But all these earmarks remain up in the air as broad criticism of the funding process continues to tie up the federal budget for the current fiscal year, which started in October.

The omnibus measure funds the majority of the federal domestic budget. Republicans and some Democrats also have criticized the plan for increasing government spending during an economic crisis.

As it stands this weekend, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid delayed a vote in part because of fire from Republicans over earmarks. That prompted the House and Senate to pass another emergency budget extension to Wednesday, allowing more time for negotiations.

Suburban earmarks

A look at local funding secured by suburban lawmakers in the pending federal spending plan:

• Rep. Melissa Bean, Barrington Democrat, Northwest suburban 8th District: $4.1 million

$48,000 - Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital childhood obesity program

$92,000 - Restoration of Great Lakes system

$100,000 - WINGS outreach for domestic abuse shelter

$100,000 - Kids Hope United services for high-risk youth

$196,514 - Illinois Institute of Technology to help manufacturers adopt sustainable products, processes

$300,000 - Allendale Association for transitional living, foster care, mentoring in Lake Villa

$317,000 - Children's Memorial Hospital floor for cardiac care

$475,000 - Engineering of I-90 off-ramp at Meacham Road

$475,000 - Widen Miller Road from Route 31 to River Road

$500,000 - McHenry County upgrades to emergency dispatch

$552,000 - Hospice of Northeastern Illinois for a new facility

$975,000 - Engineering Route 120 improvements

• Rep. Bill Foster, Geneva Democrat, West Suburban 14th District: $3.1 million

$24,000 - Kendall County child obesity program

$76,000 - Sauk Valley Community College job training

$95,000 - Mental health programs in Henry/Stark counties

$95,000 - Elgin Boys/Girls Club

$100,000 - Automotive training, Elgin Community College

$143,000 - Waubonsee Community College auto training

$238,000 - WCC computer training

$250,000 - Elgin police equipment

$250,000 - Aurora police equipment

$400,000 - Carpentersville Community Response Team

$475,000 - Elgin riverfront upgrade

$950,000 - Eola Road/I-88 interchange in Aurora

• Rep. Peter Roskam, Wheaton Republican, DuPage County-centered 6th District: $2.7 million

$50,000 - Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital domestic violence programs

$95,000 - Heart health program via Martin Russo Community Health Center, Bloomingdale

$142,500 - Expansion of Marklund Philip Center for Children, Bloomingdale

$143,000 - Surgical equipment for Adventist GlenOaks Hospital

$175,000 - Youth program in Glendale Heights via DuCAP

$190,000 - Renovation of Wheaton senior center via DuPage Convalescent Center

$200,000 - Interoperatoble radios for DuPage County Sheriff

$209,000 - Convert DuPage County Forest Preserve's fleet to alternative fuels

$237,500 - Study of bus rapid transit route via PACE

$238,000 - Manufacturing career development at Streamwood High School and U-46.

$475,000 - Bike overpass at Route 72 in Elk Grove Village

$500,000 - Public well, Bartlett

• Rep. Don Manzullo, Rockford area Republican, far northwestern 16th District: $2.5 million

Manzullo's local projects include:

$575,000 - Widen Rakow Road in Crystal Lake

• Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Evanston Democrat, near North suburban 9th District: $2 million

$25,000 - Evanston anti-gang initiative

$95,000 - Kohl Children's Museum residents program

$95,000 - Access Living disabled vet coordinator

$100,000 - YWCA Evanston domestic abuse program

$125,000 - Niles after-school programs

$143,000 - Niles Township English language program

$237,000 - CTA Yellow Line extension planning

$300,000 - Harwood Heights police technology upgrades

$381,000 - Science labs at Chicago's Senn High School

$475,000 - Pedestrian safety improvements on Milwaukee Avenue

• Funding secured with the help of multiple suburban lawmakers:

$28.7 million - Construct McCook and Thornton Reservoirs to reduce water pollution, flooding in Chicago area sewer systems

$7.5 million - Des Plaines River flood protection

$5.75 million - Invasive species protections at Chicago Sanitary & Ship Canal

$4.8 million - Engineering, environmental work for Metra STAR Line, upgrades to Metra UP-Northwest Line

$1.2 million - DeKalb airport improvements

$381,000 - College of DuPage, veterans counseling curriculum development

$75,000 - Northern Illinois Police Alarm System technology

• Rep. Mark Kirk, Highland Park Republican, North suburban 10th District: $0

Kirk, in office since 2001, swore off earmarks last year.

• Rep. Judy Biggert, Hinsdale Republican, 13th District, includes southern DuPage and northern Will counties: $0

Biggert, in office since 1999, stopped seeking earmarks last year.

• Sen. Roland Burris, Chicago Democrat, not in Senate when original measure created, so no earmarks: $0

• Sen. Dick Durbin, a Springfield Democrat: Earmark list not yet available because final omnibus measure was not approved in Senate.

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