U.S. Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand has requested $164 million in pet projects, including money for a bus garage, water and sewer upgrades and $8.5 million in electrical improvements in Saratoga County.
In a letter to constituents posted on her Web site, Gillibrand, D-Hudson, said most of the projects she requested won’t be approved for the 2009 fiscal year. Congress works to pass appropriations bills by the beginning of the fiscal year Oct. 1.
“I am also committed to bringing fiscal accountability back to the federal budget,” Gillibrand wrote. “This means that the vast majority of the projects below will not receive approval by the Appropriations Committee. In fact, it is likely that only a handful will ever receive federal funding.”
Gillibrand said the disclosure was designed to shed light on the innerworkings of government, and noted she has posted her earmark requests since last year, her first in office.
This year she reduced her earmark requests by 60 percent, she said in the letter.
The earmark process has been criticized as reckless spending, and people running against Gillibrand in this year’s election for the 20th Congressional District maintain that the federal government should be tightening its belt this year.
“On paper, if you look at these items, they all look very noble, very important. But if you read what they are, and if you think about what they are, you wonder why they need to be there,” said Todd Goldup, an independent from Albany County who is running against Gillibrand.
He questioned why water and sewer system upgrades weren’t planned in advance and why Congress didn’t pay for maintenance on Black Hawk helicopters out of the Department of Defense budget. In addition to her personal requests, Gillibrand joined with the rest of the New York delegation to ask for $215 million for upgrades to 70 helicopters that the National Guard “inherited.”
Columbia County Republican candidate John Wallace said the earmarked projects should be voted on as regular bills so the public can comment on them.
“There is no transparency or accountability in the system; members can secure hundreds of millions of dollars of funding for projects without subjecting it to debate by their colleagues in the Congress, or to the scrutiny and oversight of the public,” he said in an e-mail.
Republican Alexander “Sandy” Treadwell says Congress should stop awarding earmarks for a year while the process is analyzed. “The federal earmark system just lacks a fiscal discipline that Congress should be demonstrating, especially in these tough economic times,” said Peter Constantakes, Treadwell’s spokesman.
But Mike Rocque, a Republican from Clifton Park, said there are worse problems in the federal government than members of Congress getting earmarks for their districts. “A lot of the American public isn’t aware of the fact that it represents a miniscule portion of the budget.”
Many earmarks are valuable projects, he added. “That, to me, is bringing home taxpayer money that should be brought home.”
One of Gillibrand’s requested earmarks would improve electrical service in the Luther Forest Technology Campus and also in a large swath of Saratoga County extending north to Glens Falls in Warren County.
Michael Relyea, executive director for Luther Forest, said the project would connect a National Grid substation in Malta to a New York State Electric and Gas substation in Stillwater, improving service to the general area. It also would provide more electrical lines in the tech park itself, so if one fails, the others can pick up the slack.
“One of our selling points is we’re going to have really reliable power,” Relyea said. “If you don’t have power, you can’t have economic development.”
Gillibrand also has asked for $15.5 million to build a bus garage in Saratoga County for the Capital District Transportation Authority. CDTA currently has such facilities in Schenectady, Albany and Troy and would like to build one in Saratoga to dispatch buses, maintain and fuel them locally.
Currently, the buses that serve Saratoga County are housed at night in the Schenectady garage. CDTA spokeswoman Margo Janack said having a Saratoga facility would reduce operational costs for those buses.
“Those savings would help us to look toward improving and expanding service,” Janack said.
CDTA sent out a request for proposals for 10 acres on which it could build a 55,000-square-foot facility that could house 50 buses.
Here’s more of her requests that would send money into the Capital Region:
u $500,000 for the Watervliet Innovation Center to promote job growth and economic development in the Hudson Valley and North Country.
u $3 million for the University at Albany College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering to develop a Center for Competency to advance biomedical and nanomedical research.
u $1.2 million to upgrade the intermodal transportation corridor between Saratoga Springs and North Creek.
u $1.5 million for the Hudson Valley Agricultural Economic Development Program to give technical assistance and revolving loans to agricultural businesses in the Hudson Valley.
u $492,250 for infrastructure and safety upgrades to the Saratoga Springs water treatment plant.
u $15.5 million for construction of a bus facility in Saratoga County to house a fleet of 50 buses to serve the county, which would reduce traffic congestion and pollution.
u $650,000 to start a bachelor of science in nursing program at Empire State College in Saratoga Springs so that working nurses can further their education.
u $2.5 million for Advanced Energy Conversion LLC in Malta to develop technology to create hydropower from wastewater, which could offset power costs at municipal water treatment facilities.
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