Minnesota’s lawmakers submit earmark wish lists worth hundreds of millions of dollars
WASHINGTON – Woodbury wants to expand its proposed drinking water treatment plan, a massive undertaking sparked by concerns of pollution from toxic chemical produced by 3M, but city lacks the money to do so.
“The city can’t do this on its own,” said Jason Egerstrom, communications manager for Woodbury.
So Woodbury’s officials asked 4th Congressional District Rep. Betty McCollum for help. And the congresswoman might be able to do so. After a 10-year ban on special projects, Congress is once again allowing lawmakers to request “member items” also known as earmarks, and McCollum has put in a $4.4 million request to help Woodbury connect three East Well Field wells to the city’s future water treatment plan.
In fact, every member of Minnesota’s congressional delegation, with the notable exception of 7th Congressional District Rep. Michelle Fischbach has recently submitted wish lists totaling hundreds of millions of dollars for special projects in their districts. They include money for the repair and construction of roads across the state, and funding for “micro-robots” for the Edina Police Department. There are also request for funding for low-income housing and a Boys and Girls Club as well as $8 million for an Agricultural Research Service Cereal Disease Lab in St. Paul.
“Members of Congress know the needs of their districts,” McCollum said. ‘Minnesotans deserve to have their tax dollars invested in impactful projects that benefit our community and improve their quality of life.”
Earmarks were banned in 2011, victims of a series of scandals and an anti-spending movement fueled by the Tea Party, which considered these projects wasteful “pork.” But proponents pushed for their return, arguing they account for a tiny fraction of the federal budget, help fund much-needed projects and foster consensus-building and bipartisanship in Congress as lawmakers across the political spectrum work toward common goals.
So, earmarks were resurrected last year, in a limited way. Renamed “community funding projects,” each House member was allowed to put in a request for as many as 10 projects. That number was upped to 15 for this year. Members were required to certify that neither they nor their immediate families have any financial interest in projects they requested and to make their requests public. The total budget for earmarks was also limited to no more than 1% of the federal budget.
“The restoration of community project funding was supported by members on both sides of the aisle from districts all across the country because, especially at a time when many communities are still recovering from the COVID-19 economic crisis, it’s critical that members of Congress can direct resources to initiatives that will make a real and immediate difference in the lives of the people we represent,” said 2nd Congressional District Rep. Angie Craig.
To 3rd Congressional District Rep. Dean Phillips, earmarks are way to try to combat the inequality that results because wealthier states send more money to Washington, D.C. in federal taxes – and are known as “donor states” – and tend to receive fewer federal dollars per capita than poorer states.
“Minnesota sends far more of our hard-earned federal tax dollars to Washington, D.C., than we receive in direct federal investments, and I am on a mission to fix this disparity,” Phillips said of his efforts to fund local projects.
He said that the money he can bring back to the district “will not only be transformative for the communities and the people they will serve, but they will also bring critical resources back to Minnesota instead of sending them to lower-tax ‘moocher’ states that are regularly subsidized by our federal tax dollars.”
The U.S. Senate also allowed a return of the earmarks, which it renamed “congressionally directed spending.” Senators generally receive more money per capita for these special projects since they represent more people than House members, and are not subject to a 15-project limit.
Last year Minnesota’s Democratic senators, Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith asked for dozens of requests for funding for projects across the state. Senate requests for the 2023 appropriations bill are not yet available.
Overall, the return of earmarks resulted in nearly 5,000 local projects totaling $9 billion in the $1.5 trillion government spending bill signed by President Biden last year.
“Every project is vetted, ready to be implemented in the short-term, and has community support. If I have any disappointment, it’s only that there are more qualified projects than funding opportunities available,” McCollum said.
The House Appropriations Committees will begin to consider earmarks for the 2023 budget later this month, with the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. But that does not mean every request will be approved.
Still, Woodbury is hopeful its project will be green-lighted.
“We are thrilled to see Congresswoman McCollum forwarded this request as one of her projects and appreciate her ongoing support for Woodbury’s water quality” said Woodbury Public Works Director Mary Hurliman.
The city received money from a settlement between the state and 3M that helps it develop its water treatment plan. But the settlement money did not cover all the wells that it wants to feed into its new water treatment facility.
“As we embark on this major capital project, ideally we would be treating all of our municipal water ensuring the capital invested provides a resilient water system,” Hurliman said.
Although lawmakers can select any 15 local projects to submit for funding to the Appropriations Committee, the ones they pick often reflect their priorities, and ideologies. Minnesota’s GOP members of Congress, for instance, were more likely to promote infrastructure projects than social programs.
Sixth Congressional District Rep. Tom Emmer and 8th Congressional District Rep. Pete Stauber each submitted only nine projects for consideration, while Fischbach joined others House conservatives in boycotting the entire process, Meanwhile, Minnesota’s Democratic lawmakers all used their full complement of 15 requests and submitted a wider variety of projects for funding.
For instance, a leading House progressive, 5th Congressional District Rep. Ilhan Omar focused on funding for low-income housing and food distribution, Native American health care and other programs to help the poor. “Our projects invest directly in the needs of the people of the Fifth District, particularly the most vulnerable,” Omar said. “That’s why we proposed over $10 million in affordable housing projects throughout the district, along with food access, healthcare clinics, and various youth programs.”
Omar said that she was “proud to deliver over $17 million to the Fifth District from here requests for project funding last year.
“And I hope to continue delivering for the people I represent.” Omar said.
Here’s a list of requested earmarks from the Minnesota House members.
Rep. Angie Craig, D-2nd District
Dakota County Veterans Memorial Greenway, $4,995,000
Scott County Sheriff’s Department Specialized Rescue Vehicle, $350,000
Dakota County Sheriff’s Department Electronic Crimes Prevention, $325,000
Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Stormwater Reclamation PFAS Reduction Project, $750,000
Dakota County I-35 and County Highway 50 Interchange Project, $5,040,000
City of Burnsville Highway 13 & Nicollet Avenue Mobility Improvement Project, $3,000.000
City of West St. Paul Smith & Dodd Realignment Project, $3,100,000
City of Cottage Grove 80th Street Transportation & Infrastructure Project, $7,800,000
Prairie Island Indian Community Tribal Homes Carbon Reduction and Safety Initiative $1,169,000
City of Shakopee Regional Innovation Hub, $1,500,000
City of Farmington Rambling River Center and Exterior Plaza, $3,658,675
City of Prior Lake Trail Gap Construction Project, $632,150
Scott County Merriam Junction Regional Trail Improvements Project $3,900,000
City of Lakeville Freight Rail Car Storage and Transload Facility Project, $6,912,000
City of Shakopee Riverfront Cultural Corridor Project – Phase 2, $750,000
Rep. Dean Phillips, D-3rd District
Edina Police Department Procurement of Tactical Micro-robot Systems, $77,420
Hennepin Technical College Procurement of Scenario-Based Law Enforcement Training, $2,090,000
Expanding Community-wide Domestic Violence Primary Prevention Education, Chaska, $250,000
SouthWest Transit Multi-City/County Clean Energy Demonstration Project, Prairie, $1,996,000
City of Plymouth’s Zachary Water Treatment Plant Enhancements. $2,000,000
Curriculum Development for Interprofessional Education and Simulation, Normandale
Community College, $188,875
FastTracker Ambassadors, Minnesota Psychiatric Information and Outreach, $500,000
Maple Grove Hospital Emergency Department Expansion, Robinsdale, $2,000,000
Highway 610 Extension Project, Maple Grove, $2,750,000
Revitalization and Transformation of Huntington Place, $4,000,000
City of Corcoran Water Supply Construction Project, $4,000,000
Minnesota Valley State Trail – Lyndale to Nine Mile Creek Segment, $2,350,000
Construction of a High Priority Off-Street Trail Along Zane Avenue Between 63rd Ave and Brooklyn Blvd., Brooklyn Park, $874,000
Boys & Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities Voyageur Environmental Center
Renovation/Expansion, St. Paul, $750,000