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The city of Champaign stands to get $850,000 for capital improvements in the Garden Hills neighborhood. Danville is likely to get $850,000 to help revitalize the Madison neighborhood west of downtown. Rantoul is looking at receiving $540,000 for upgrades to its youth center on the old Chanute Air Force Base. And Bloomington is in line for a $2 million grant to improve a road and spur development on its southeast side.
All of these are so-called “community project funding” ideas — formerly known as earmarks — submitted by downstate members of Congress and approved by the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee. A final vote on these and billions in other projects nationwide is expected this fall when the federal budget is considered.
But those in the 15th Congressional District represented by Rep. Mary Miller, R-Oakland, are shut out again. No community-project-funding dollars are going to any part of the huge area — more than a third of the state — in Miller’s district. As a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, Miller pledged to oppose community project funding, earmarks or any other euphemism for what has long been known as pork-barrel spending.
Fine, but what good is it to your constituents if everyone else is getting dinner and you’re not, but you’re still helping pay the bill? Even several of Miller’s fellow Freedom Caucusers, including Reps. Matt Goetz of Florida and Marjorie Taylor Green of Georgia, have reversed course and are lining up for a helping of local spending projects. The practice is as old as the republic, and it’s been practiced by most presidents, including two GOP favorites, Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan. Donald Trump did it too.
Meanwhile, freshman Rep. Nikki Budzinski, D-Springfield, is likely to get more than $86 million for 15 projects in her 13th District — an inflated number because one of the projects is $75 million of improvements along the Mississippi River and includes grants to four other members of Congress. Rep. Mike Bost, a Republican who represents a district adjacent to Miller’s, is in line for more than $25 million in projects for just his southern Illinois area. And Republican Rep. Darin LaHood is bringing a lot of pork to his district that includes Peoria and Bloomington-Normal.
“Bringing federal funding back home is one of my most important roles in Congress,” Budzinski said.
Miller — and her constituents — are increasingly alone in shunning earmarks. Nationally, about 70 percent of the 222 House Republicans are accepting them, up from 60 percent last year, according to Roll Call. All House Democrats but one submitted requests. The money allocated to earmarks accounts for less than 1 percent of the money set aside for federal discretionary spending.
Danville and Rantoul, once represented by Miller, were shut out of the earmark process when they were in her district. But thanks to congressional redistricting, both are benefiting from the process. Their new representative in Congress, Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Matteson, submitted a $2 million request to help revitalize the Madison neighborhood in Danville that includes the new Carle at the Riverfront development. The goal, according to the grant application, is to remove blighted properties, and improve housing and infrastructure in the area between downtown Danville and the North Fork of the Vermilion River. The grant award was whittled down to $850,000.
Kelly also put in a $540,000 request to upgrade kitchen and dining facilities at Rantoul’s youth center. That grant request was fully funded by the appropriations committee.
Here’s how other area communities outside of Miller’s district stand to benefit from community project funding:
$963,000 to the University of Illinois for the establishment of the Champaign-Urbana Real-Time Crime Center, which, as proposed, “would allow for expanded and enhanced prevention, monitoring and response to crimes in progress” and help protect students and others in the community.$500,000 to Richland Community College in Decatur toward the establishment of the EnRich Educational Campus Housing project to help house students entering programs at its EV Workforce Academy, Ag Academy and nursing program.$1 million to the Moving Pillsbury Forward group that hopes to redevelop the site of the former Pillsbury Mill on Springfield’s northeast side.$500,000 to the Boys & Girls Club of Livingston County for development of an intergenerational community center in Fairbury.$1 million to the village of Teutopolis, just east of Effingham, to replace about 21,000 lineal feet of cast-iron water lines that are starting to fail.$1 million to the village of Dieterich, about 10 miles southeast of Effingham, to reline about 21,000 lineal feet of sanitary sewer lines and manholes that have begun to fail.$2 million to the city of Bloomington to improve Hamilton Road from Bunn Street to the Morrissey Drive extension to enhance access to major employers and help create new development in the area.