Mayors knock Chaffetz on earmarks stance

Pork » Locals say philosophy punishes them, rewards districts that play the game.
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Utah County mayors aren't happy with their new congressman's no-earmarks stance because they say it's costing them federal dollars to build roads for their growing population.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, has shunned congressionally directed project spending as pork, and one of his staffers explained to local officials this week that his boss will target money only at projects with a clear federal purpose.

Elected officials who plan transportation as members of the Mountainland Association of Governments vented their frustrations over that position.

"What is he actually doing for us?" Pleasant Grove Mayor Mike Daniels asked rhetorically.

Daniels and other mayors on the association's regional-planning committee agreed that both of Utah's Republican senators -- and even Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson, whose district includes a sliver of Utah County -- "fight for funding."

"The last place I'm going to take [a funding proposal] to is Congressman Chaffetz," Daniels told Chaffetz staffer Mike Jerman.

For his part, Jerman said Chaffetz will direct some money to projects, but only when there is a "federal nexus."

"Is there a federal justification for [a project]?" he said, characterizing the congressman's test. For instance, "Is it aiding interstate commerce?"

Chaffetz prefers, Jerman said, that any federal transportation grants be funneled through state transportation departments for prioritization.

"We still need to have Congress more concerned about how federal dollars are spent," Jerman added.

Chaffetz was touring Israel with a group of Republican House members Friday and did not respond to a phone message.

After Thursday's meeting, Daniels called Chaffetz's position "noble" but a hindrance to Utah County planning for its own growth. Orem Mayor Jerry Washburn, the regional planning committee's chairman, said being a lone holdout against earmarks is unrealistic.

Neither mayor would specify projects each wanted funded, but both said Chaffetz has rebuffed a list of Mountainland requests.

"Earmarks are a fact of life," Washburn said.

Ultimately, even if Chaffetz gets some money for the Utah Department of Transportation, other funds that he could have earmarked would be lost, Washburn said. "They'll go to another state."

"It's like unilateral disarmament," said Mountainland senior planner Shawn Seager. Just because Chaffetz halts earmarks doesn't stop other representatives from steering funds to their districts.

The projects that Mountainland submits for directed funding already, Seager said, are vetted by UDOT when the association writes its prioritized improvement plans.