Congressmember Lois Capps reported that $13.8 million in federal funds earmarked for 14 projects that were slated for her district have been dropped from this coming year’s appropriations measure in response to sudden Republican antipathy to earmarking. Of that $13.8 million, $650,000 would have helped the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara with construction costs associated with its remodel and consolidation plans. In addition, $650,000 would have helped defray the $10 million it will cost to elevate Highway 101 as it crosses Carpinteria Creek. That freeway elevation — 10 feet — is required by new federal flood-control rules. Under the new rules, the gap between the freeway and the creek has to be big enough to accommodate 500-year floods without getting choked and clogged by the torrent of trees, boulders, and debris such flooding could unleash.
The elimination of earmarks has come at the instigation of Republican Party leaders seeking to respond to the fiscally austere evangelism espoused by many of the new members of Congress about to be sworn in next month. While earmarks have become a subject of intense controversy in recent years, this particular one has the strong support of the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments. If not for the new federal flood-control requirements, they argued, there would be no need to raise the bridge. Carpinteria City Councilmember Joe Armendariz — also head of the County Taxpayers Association — has vowed to lobby against this cut during a trip to Washington this February, as have County Supervisors Salud Carbajal and Joni Gray, a liberal and conservative, respectively.
Members of both parties have used and abused earmarks in years past — the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere” comes to mind — but with the sudden rise of the Tea Party movement, they lost favor with Republican leadership seeking to make peace with what promises to be an unruly class of freshmen. Capps’s press secretary Ashley Schapitl pointed out that Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) — who helped engineer the erasure of earmarks — had himself secured $42 million for his state. Given that Republicans will enjoy a new House majority in January, Schapitl expressed skepticism that Santa Barbara’s earmarks would be restored next year.
Capps had also secured $1.6 million that would have been spent to help fund the construction of a new education center at Vandenberg Air Force Base, as well as $200,000 that would have paid for new gear to replace the outdated and substandard safety equipment currently used by Guadalupe police officers. In Ventura County, Capps reported, $1.46 million was going to be put toward the design and installation of a solar power system on Air Force base property. Nearly $520,000 was headed to help remove the 200-foot-tall Matilija Dam outside of Ojai, a project environmental groups have successfully argued is needed to reestablish waterways used by the federally endangered steelhead trout. And Ventura’s Sheriff’s Department will now have to look elsewhere for $500,000 that would have been used to support a task force that monitors, tracks, and locates registered sex offenders in the tri-county area.