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Commentaries and editorials

Despite Critics, Oregon Interests Eager to
Collect Funds from New Spending Law

by Charles Pope
The Oregonian, March 11, 2009

WASHINGTON -- For all the critics of the $410 billion spending bill President Obama signed into law today, there is a separate and very large group across Oregon and the Northwest willing to embrace a law that funds everything from education to salmon restoration to dam removal and upgrading the Pendleton Round-Up and Happy Canyon facility.

Money for all those uses was included in the bill that finances some of the government's biggest agencies for the rest of the fiscal year.

The law combined the spending plans usually passed as nine separate bills into one giant measure that ensures the government will have money to operate until September 30.

In all, Oregon will receive about $250 million.

But while the new law prevents the government from running out of money and shutting down, it's passage was not easy. Most Republicans and even some Democrats revolted because the bill was studded with 8,816 earmarks, which are orders from individual lawmaker to spend federal dollars on specific projects and programs in specific places.

Critics say such "special interest'' earmarks waste money and breed corruption. Their objections delayed passage of the bill for three days even though 40 percent of the earmarks in the bill were written by Republicans.

Even Obama complained about the earmarks, saying he was "signing an imperfect omnibus bill because it's necessary for the ongoing functions of government.''

At the same time, he said during the signing ceremony, "Done right, earmarks have given legislators the opportunity to direct federal money to worthy projects that benefit people in their districts, and that's why I've opposed their outright elimination.''

In the end, no earmark was removed.

Which is why Portland officials are pleased.

The city will be getting $45 million to create a new loop for the city's streetcar system linking existing service to the Lloyd District and all the way to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. The law will funnel $3.3 million for continued design work for a new Columbia River crossing on I-5 and $333,000 for the science research teaching center at Portland State.

The law also provides $370,000 to help Portland cope with homeless and low income veterans.

In all, the law directs more than $250 million in spending to Oregon for an array of projects and services ranging from education to law enforcement, road construction and habitat restoration.

"With this bill we have a government spending package that reflects the priorities of Oregonians," said Rep. Blumenauer who was able to collect funding for such things as research into fish disease, the study of "problems facing organic agriculture'' and money to help rural doctors convert to digital record-keeping.

Other Oregon lawmakers were able to sprinkle money to other parts of the state.

Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley together secured $460,000 to upgrade facilities for the Pendleton Round-Up and Happy Canyon Facilities and $380,000 for renewable energy studies and to finance a telemedicine project.

The two senators also wrote a $475,000 provision that will allow a truck climbing lane to be built on I-84 near Three Mile Hill and $380,600 to investigate the possibility of using an old military facility in Christmas Valley for generating solar, wind, and possibly geothermal-generated power.

Wyden and Merkley both highlighted the benefits to Eastern Oregon, which has been especially hard hit by the sinking economy.

"Modern healthcare and high-end education programs are the building blocks of a prosperous future," Wyden said. "This bill will bring funding for these crucial projects to eastern Oregon, improving education and access to quality healthcare while investing in our infrastructure and renewable energy."

Merkley said the bill will help stabilize the region's economy. "This bill lays the foundation for economic growth in eastern Oregon,'' he said. "We're upgrading infrastructure, investing in renewable energy and ensuring that rural Oregonians have access to quality schools and first rate medical care.''

Aside from money specifically for Oregon, the state will benefit from millions of dollars directed to regional programs.

The law provides $80 million for the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund which finances programs across the Northwest to save salmon. Separately, $20 million is provided to continue removing the Elwha Dam in Washington state that scientists say has harmed salmon stocks.

It also has $34.4 million to dredge and deepen the Columbia River channel to allow larger vessels to use the river and $1.4 million for ecosystem restoration for the lower Columbia River. That work will benefit salmon, steelhead and other species.

The law also calls on the government to spend $2.7 million to control sediment from Mt. St. Helens and protect the Cowlitz and Toutle rivers. That work will protect habitat and improve water quality.

Charles Pope
Despite Critics, Oregon Interests Eager to Collect Funds from New Spending Law
The Oregonian, March 11, 2009

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