November 21, 2004 

Contact: Sean Reilly, Mobile Press Register
  

Sen. Richard Shelby Announces Money for Area Projects
(Reprinted from Article in Mobile Press Register dated November 21, 2004)
 
By SEAN REILLY
Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- The University of South Alabama's regional cancer research institute will receive $20 million in federal funding for the current fiscal year, U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, announced Saturday.

The total is easily the largest one-time federal appropriation for the institute since university officials announced the high-stakes venture in 2000 and is almost as much as USA has received from Washington in the intervening four years combined.

"I can't say enough about how effective Richard Shelby is for our community and our state," USA lobbyist Happy Fulford said Saturday. "He is making this project a reality."

The money is contained in a $388 billion spending package belatedly approved by Congress on Saturday for the fiscal year that began in October.

The Senate took longer to approve the mammoth bill, largely because of disputes over provisions dealing with abortions and members of Congress' access to income tax returns. Senate passage occurred late Saturday night on a 65-30 vote.

As a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Shelby is well-placed to "earmark" federal dollars for local projects.

Among other endeavors, the legislation also provides $10 million for continued development of the Alabama State Port Authority's container terminal, $1 million for Broad Street redevelopment in Mobile and $1 million for runway rehabilitation at the Mobile Regional Airport.

"This legislation provides necessary resources for a wide range of initiatives to improve the quality of life for our citizens and increase economic development opportunities across the state," Shelby said in a prepared statement.

In recent years, lawmakers have become increasingly reliant on earmarking to steer funds to home-state priorities. By the count of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington, D.C., watchdog group, the spending bill that passed Saturday contains 11,772 earmarks worth almost $15.8 billion.

Politically, the practice is usually a winner. Shelby, who stresses his ability to bring money back to Alabama, overwhelmingly won re-election to a fourth six-year term this month.

But critics contend that earmarking sometimes squeezes out worthy projects in favor of initiatives pushed by paid lobbyists and other well-connected citizens.

Lawmakers "are basically making the (federal) agencies do the same work with less money, and they're micro-managing more of that money," said Keith Ashdown, a spokesman for Taxpayers for Common Sense.

With the federal treasury gripped by record budget deficits, dollars have been especially tight this year. While funding for the cancer institute jumped dramatically, other projects face cuts. Last fiscal year, for example, Congress provided $3 million for land acquisition in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, compared to $1.2 million this year.

The cancer institute has ranked among USA's highest priorities since its creation, with a long-term goal of developing advanced capabilities in prevention, diagnosis, treatment and research. Ultimately, the university hopes to win a prestigious federal designation as a comprehensive cancer center, which could help attract still more money.

But although several dozen staffers have been hired, the university has had to postpone groundbreaking for a building next to Knollwood Hospital because $12 million in promised state funding has not yet come through, Fulford said. He said he did not know whether the newly announced $20 million federal appropriation would affect the timetable.
 
On a separate front, lawmakers once again generally balked at Bush administration efforts to slash funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' civil works program. Bush, for example, had sought $549,000 for dredging and other upkeep on the lightly-trafficked Coosa-Alabama river system; Congress kept funding at the same $4 million received last year.

The Port of Mobile, however, will see its share of Corps maintenance money fall slightly from about $22 million last year to $21 million -- a figure that includes $1 million for the Garrows Bend environmental restoration.

From $23.6 million last year, the Black Warrior-Tombigbee waterway system will get about $19.5 million in maintenance money this year, according to Shelby's office. Congress also approved $750,000 to study how Alabama's river network can be used to carry more freight.

Among other South Alabama projects in line for federal money this year:

Mobile Bay Oyster Recovery Program: $800,000.

Orange Beach Pedestrian Safety and Lighting Enhancements: $250,000.

USA's Center for the Study of Rural Vehicular Trauma: $500,000.

USA's Mitchell College of Business Library: $400,000.

Mobile Association for Retarded Citizens: $250,000.

City of Fairhope Library: $250,000.

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