Spending bill includes millions for Golden Triangle

March 12, 2009

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The federal omnibus spending bill President Obama approved Wednesday includes about $34 million for research programs at Mississippi State University, $1.4 million to extend the runway at Golden Triangle Regional Airport and $950,000 to improve the Lowndes County road by the Severstal steel mill. 

 

There''s also $260,000 for wastewater structures in west Lowndes County, $285,000 for Mississippi University for Women and $20 million to build barge mooring cells on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. 

 

The money is part of the long-delayed $410 billion appropriations Congress passed this week for funding federal government agencies this fiscal year. 

 

"The FY 2009 funding that will be directed to Mississippi will do much to help our state recover from the economic downturn we face," U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran said in a statement issued by his office. 

 

It''s in addition to the special $787 billion economic stimulus package enacted last month, which sends about $2.8 billion to Mississippi. 

 

Cochran, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, had a key role in steering millions of dollars to Mississippi. 

 

"With these funds we will be able to continue the important work of improving our state''s infrastructure, enhancing quality of health care and education and creating an environment to attract new businesses," he said. 

 

The U.S. Senate passed the federal spending bill Tuesday on a 62-35 vote. Cochran and Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi were among only eight Republicans voting for the legislation pushed by Democrats; 32 Republicans opposed it. 

 

The bill was initiated two weeks ago in the U.S. House of Representatives, which passed it on a 245-178 vote. U.S. Rep. Travis Childers of Mississippi''s 1st Congressional District was among only 20 Democrats voting against the bill. 

 

"Many of the omnibus-funded programs are valid. However, there is overall too much unnecessary spending included in the bill, and the government cannot afford to spend without discipline or concern for the dire state of our economy," Childers said in a statement issued by his office 

 

A nonpartisan budget watchdog group estimates Mississippi is among the big winners when it comes to getting congressional funds. 

 

Taxpayers for Common Sense estimates that both Cochran and Wicker sit atop the heap for getting earmarks, the controversial practice of lawmakers steering money to pet projects. 

 

The group says Cochran is the congressional champion with $437.7 million in earmarks brought to the state both alone and in combination with lawmakers from other states. Wicker is No. 2 on the list at $391 million. 

 

Mississippi is third overall in earmarks, the group''s research shows, with a total of $325 million, a figure that doesn''t include multistate funding. 

 

"This is where Mississippi is always impressive," said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. 

 

Mississippi trails much larger California ($568.7 million) and Texas ($370 million) overall, but swamps them when earmarks are figured on a per capita basis. Mississippi is fourth in the country with $110.59 per resident accrued in earmarks. Alaska remains No. 1 at $209.71 per resident. 

 

Overall, the group estimates there are $7.7 billion in earmarks in the $410 billion spending plan. 

 

Ellis said the group uses Congress'' own definition of an earmark to reach its conclusions. But Margaret McPhillips, a spokeswoman for Cochran, said it''s impossible to tell how much money legislators steered toward the state in earmarks because the definition is debatable. 

 

Wicker said he still feels the government spends too much money, but does not favor taking the right to choose what projects are approved away from Congress. 

 

Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum -- Cochran''s former chief of staff -- has pointed to the importance of getting federal research dollars to the university. "We''re a major part of growing and expanding the Mississippi economy," Keenum said. 

 

Funds coming to the Golden Triangle from the federal spending bill include: