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Congress won't have much money for pet projects

Western New York municipalities, businesses and nonprofits shouldn't expect a lot of special funding from Washington this year.

President Bush's plans to increase U.S. ground forces in Iraq and menace Iran w i t h more sea and air power signal that military spending could increase by billions of dollars in fiscal 2008.

That surge could crowd out spending on special domestic needs. Here are some longstanding appropriations requests for the region:

* The $7.8 million second phase of a new visiting officers' quarters at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.

* About $4 million in funding for the Calspan-University at Buffalo Research Center.

* The proposed $120 million federal courthouse on Buffalo's Niagara Square.

None of these requests fall in the category of earmarks, which were appropriations slipped into bills late in the process, going unnoticed until after they became law. Some were embarrassing, like funds for Alaska's "bridge to nowhere," and some were criminal, like former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham's earmarks for a defense contractor in exchange for bribes.

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, lost out on his bid for the appropriations committee - possibly because of his frequent votes against the Democratic leadership on issues such as sanctions against flag-burning. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D. Calif., put three fellow Californians on the expanded spending panel.

Higgins did, however, get promoted on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, where the future of Buffalo's new courthouse will be played out.

Committee Republicans and Bush put up a red light against building the courthouse - No. 1 on the federal judiciary's priority list for three years. The GOP sided with the General Services Administration, the government's landlord, in its feud with the judiciary over rents paid the GSA for space.

The region will look to Higgins to help advance longdormant plans to complete Route 219 to the Southern Tier Expressway, and get work on Buffalo's South Towns Expressway started now that he will be working with a Democratic chairman on the Transportation Committee and a Democratic governor who has the final say where federal highway funds are spent.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, DN. Y., is deeply involved in an issue with no federal dollars attached that may loom large in Buffalo's future - the outcome of revenue sharing plans of the National Football League and its Buffalo Bills.

Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr. has said a revenue plan tilted against the Bills could threaten the franchise's future in Buffalo.

Schumer announced last year he would form a coalition of senators from small and medium market states to influence the NFL on its final decisions on revenue sharing. However, in a recent interview, he said he is not ready to announce the members of this coalition, saying only that he is awaiting the decision of a league committee which has been studying revenue sharing since last summer.

Two other deadlocked issues could break Buffalo's way in 2007. Democrats could find common ground on whether to block the administration's proposal to require passports from land travelers to Canada and back some time after J an. 1, 2008. Higgins is the only delegation member opposed to the plan outright. The others have a variety of positions, includin g more delays.

A federal plan to allow U.S. inspectors to move the Peace Bridge booths to Fort Erie, Ont., is being delayed by an environmental impact study of the bridge plaza. Settling that could release millions of dollars for a new plaza on the Buffalo side, maybe even for a new bridge.


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