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Wish list of projects faces uphill battle

This year, the Buffalo Niagara region's annual wish list is running into a stiff head wind in Congress.

Lists like the $85.5 million agenda of federal spending proposals advanced on Wednesday by Erie County Executive Joel A. Giambra and the business community -- seen back home as an infusion of economic life blood -- are being looked on with increasing skepticism in the capital.

A decade or more ago, the projects were a symbol of "bringing home the bacon."

Now, they are called "earmarks," a custom being attacked from the right as taxpayer giveaways, and by reformers who see these appropriations as a pathway to scandal.

Earmarks are special projects slipped unnoticed into big appropriations bills by members of Congress seeking to do a favor for their home town, or for a political donor.

Former Rep. "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., is going to prison for putting earmarked defense contracts into bills in exchange for more than $1 million in bribes.

A new problem for earmarks is the new House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. Boehner is a dedicated foe of earmarks. A fiscal conservative, Boehner has never advanced a special project for his own district.

This year, the largest item on the region's wish advanced by Giambra and by Buffalo Niagara Partnership President Andrew Rudnick is a new sewer project for the Buffalo waterfront, with federal contributions of $24 million.

The list is heavy with proposals for Niagara County, including $3 million for Niagara Falls International Airport, $7 million for reshaping the Robert Moses Parkway, and $4 million for road work in Lockport.

William Ross, chairman of the Niagara County Legislature, joined Giambra and business leaders Wednesday in a closed-door meeting with members of the Western New York congressional delegation.

With them were Moog Inc. chief executive Robert T. Brady, who also is the partnership's chairman; Rudnick; Lewis "Luke" Rich, a consultant to the partnership; and Lawrence K. Rubin, county attorney.

Several of those who attended the meeting said there was a spirited discussion over the only major project pending in Buffalo that is not an earmark. That is the $115 million proposed federal courthouse on Niagara Square.

Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Reps. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, and Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, all voiced strong support for immediately funding the project, which has been delayed for more than two years.

Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, R-Clarence, described the procedural challenges that exist before construction is fully funded. Reynolds reiterated his support for the project and distributed a check list of legislative actions needed to finalize approval.

The Senate rebuffed taxpayer groups who wanted passage of a bill that would give more transparency to the earmarking process and allow members to ask the Senate to remove certain earmarks. Sens. Clinton and Schumer both voted to table the transparency bill, according to Keith Ashdown, a spokesman for Taxpayers for Common Sense.

e-mail: dturner@buffnews.com

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