Why I Like Bacon
June 9, 2009 11:20 AM
Last week my Chief of Staff Janet Piraino and I did a whirlwind tour of Washington. Janet used to work on Capitol Hill and used to work for Sen. Russ Feingold at his home office, so it was good to have her along. We did eight meetings in one day and got back late Thursday night - unfortunately, the Greenbush Bakery on Regent Street had already closed, so there were no late night donuts for me.
While I couldn't bring home any donuts, we got closer to bringing home some bacon. We met with Tammy Baldwin and Russ Feingold and with Herb Kohl's staff. They were all very receptive and work hard to help Madison. As you might expect, since she represents the Madison area in Congress, Rep. Baldwin does exceptional work on our behalf.
A major difference on this trip was that we had four meetings with Obama Administration officials. This was my first trip to D.C. since the new president took over in January, and you could really feel the difference. Frankly, I hadn't bothered much to schedule meetings with the Bush Administration. I mean, how many times do you need to hear somebody say no?
But this time we met with David Agnew, the Director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Relations, Shannon Long of the COPS Office, Deputy HUD Secretary Ron Sims, and U.S. Department of Transportation Undersecretary for Policy Roy Kienitz. All of them were familiar with Madison and were very eager to hear about our general plans. (Obama Administration rules prevented us from lobbying directly on pending applications for Recovery Act funds.)
In a nutshell, here's what we asked for:
HUD Funding for Low Income Housing: Hold-over Bush policies on Section 8 affordable housing vouchers are hurting Madison. We were recently surprised by HUD's allocation policy for 2009, which leaves us over a half million dollars short. Deputy Secretary Sims agreed to assign someone in his office to work directly with Janet. Rep. Baldwin is also pitching in to help us resolve this.
High Speed Rail: The whole delegation was excited to hear about our prospects for getting high speed rail connecting Madison to Chicago, Milwaukee and the Twin Cities. I was able to fill Roy Kienitz in our plans. There's a lot of competition for the Federal money, but we like our chances. Expect a decision from the Feds late this year.
New Cops from COPS: I reminded our delegation of our application for 20 new officers under the reinvigorated COPS grant program. They agreed to send letters of support. I also got a chance to make sure our application was in order with the COPS Office, although the new lobbying guidelines didn't allow me to directly advocate for our application with that office. This program is extremely competitive, with applications for over 30,000 new cops across the country and funding for only about 5,000. Look for a decision in mid-summer.
Infrastructure for Economic Development: The new University Research Park west of West Towne will be the biggest single economic development project in the City's history. But it can't happen unless we build the roads and infrastructure to serve this dense, mixed-use development. Rep. Baldwin agreed to go to bat for us to help with the costs of the necessary improvements to Mineral Point Road.
Bike Trails: Madison is one of the best cities in the nation for biking and it gets us national recognition as a progressive place. The bike industry here is a billion dollar contributor to the Wisconsin economy. So, building on that reputation as a biking center is important to our economy and to our national image. Rep. Baldwin agreed to help us seek support to build two important new connections: the Glacial Drumlin extension on the East Side and the Cannonball on the South Side.
Chronic Offenders Project: The Madison Police Department and the United Way have done some great work in identifying about 60 chronic offenders who consume an incredible amount of police time and other resources. What if we worked with those individuals to break their cycle of petty crime often combined with substance abuse? We pitched a demonstration program to address this issue and, while it wasn't funded this time, we were encouraged to keep trying.
Finally, a word about earmarks. Not all of the projects listed above can be classified as Federal earmarks, but some of them can. Earmarks or "member directed spending" or "pork" have come in for a lot of criticism lately even from our new president and from Sen. Feingold. (The Senator's policy is to help us with applications to agencies but not to sponsor amendments for specific projects.) But while there aren't two leaders for whom I have greater respect, I don't share their point of view on this one.
I happily lobby for earmarks for four reasons. First, they help us get things done sooner or with less reliance on the property tax. The badly needed East Washington Avenue and State Street rebuilding projects are prime examples of the good earmarks can do. Second, they are one way Wisconsin can get a little more back from the dollars we send to Washington. Largely because we have little in the way of a defense industry here, Wisconsinites see only a little over 80 cents returned to our state for every dollar we send to Washington. Third, all the Federal earmarks combined add up to far less than 1% of the Federal budget. The whole issue is a tempest in a teapot. Fourth, while some projects may sound frivolous, the vast majority of them are meat and potatoes things like East Washington Avenue. And there's no evidence that there is any less waste in programs outside of earmarks. Earmarks have gotten a bad rap, but my experience with them is that they help us maintain a strong infrastructure for our City.