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Report says feds slighted Tri-State

May 02, 1998|By LAURA ERNDE

The Tri-State area may have two "pork kings" on Capitol Hill, but the area still lagged behind the national average in federal spending last year.

Uncle Sam gave $2.5 billion to the area's seven counties in 1997. That's equal to $4,406 per person - lower than the national average of $5,323 per person - according to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau.

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The report shows how much every county in the nation received from the federal government. It doesn't show how much each county's residents paid in federal taxes.

In Washington County, for example, the federal government spent $524 million on such expenses as highway construction, welfare, Medicare and Medicaid, salaries of federal workers, retirement payments, Social Security, Food Stamps and housing assistance.

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Are we getting our fair share?

"That's a magic question," said Ken Green, executive director of the Eastern Panhandle Regional Planning and Development Council in Martinsburg, W.Va.

The fact that the Tri-State area received less than the national average may be a sign that the area isn't poor enough to qualify for more federal grants, Green said.

A national taxpayer rights group takes a different spin on the issue.

People should be concerned about sending less money to Washington rather than getting more money back, says the National Taxpayers Union.

"In the end, people should realize that they're not getting anything over on their neighbors if they're getting more than them. It's all tax money," said Peter Sepp, spokesman for the Alexandria, Va.-based lobbying group.

Sepp said most federal money is spent on welfare programs or politically motivated projects, neither of which, he believes, is particularly uplifting to communities.

His group would like to see more tax money stay local.

"Why not just keep the money where it is and we can have a debate there?" he said.

But others say the Tri-State area has reaped economic rewards from an influx of federal funds.

"I'm very happy with the job our representatives do for the Eastern Panhandle," said Connie Perry, president of the Democratic Women's Club in Morgan County, W.Va.

The tourism-based economy of Morgan County doesn't have any large federal facilities or interstate highways that pull on Uncle Sam's purse strings, she said.

But residents there commute to nearby Berkeley County, W.Va., to work at one of several federal operations.

Jobs at the Internal Revenue Service Computing Center, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, U.S. District Court, Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms National Tracing Center and Coast Guard Operations System Center have helped Berkeley County become the only local county to beat the national average in federal spending.

The federal government spent $419 million in Berkeley County last year, about $6,149 per person. Nearly one-third of that went into paychecks.

In 1996, the 2,950 federal jobs in that county accounted for about 13 percent of the work force. The average annual salary was $41,291, according to the West Virginia Bureau of Employment Programs.

U.S. Sen Robert Byrd is proud of his record of bringing West Virginians' tax dollars back to the state even though some on Capitol Hill have called him the "Pork King."

"I'm glad to take a bow anywhere they call me the 'Pork King,'" the Democrat said while dedicating a $4.9 million laundry center at the VA Center in Martinsburg last month.

Republican Bud Shuster, of Pennsylvania, as chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has helped to funnel millions of highway dollars back to his home state.

Over the next few years, Shuster has promised a huge chunk of federal highway money for Franklin County, Pa.

Plans call for widening Wayne Avenue in Chambersburg at a cost of $4.5 million and widening U.S. 30 from Chambersburg to Fayetteville at a cost of $18 million.

Nearly $13 million of federal money will be spent at Letterkenny Army Depot, Shuster said. About $10 million is included in the transportation bill for an advanced traffic monitoring and emergency response center there and an additional $2.8 million to convert the depot for civilian use.

U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., said he doesn't apologize for the fact that the federal government is helping to pay for a $12 million improvement of the Halfway Boulevard interchange of Interstate 81 in Washington County.

"We don't have a Bud Shuster and a Robert Byrd in Maryland," Bartlett said.

- Reporter Julie E. Greene contributed to this story.

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