Two W.Va. state lawmakers decline pork barrel projects

April 01, 2012|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |
  • For the second consecutive year, Dels. Eric Householder (left), R-Berkeley/Jefferson, and Jonathan Miller, R-Berkeley, have not filed any requests for Community Participation Project, or CPP, grants on behalf of their constituents.
File photos

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Two Eastern Panhandle lawmakers in the state House of Delegates have sworn off pork.

Yet there is no guarantee that the state money they have declined to request for local projects, also known as “pork barrel” projects, will not end up being spent elsewhere in the state, according to the House Finance Committee office.

For the second consecutive year, Dels. Jonathan Miller, R-Berkeley, and Eric Householder, R-Berkeley/Jefferson, have not filed any requests for Community Participation Project, or CPP, grants on behalf of their constituents.

According to the House and Senate finance committee offices, they are the only two lawmakers in the 100-member House or 34-member Senate who have not taken advantage of the opportunity to request state CPP grants.

For the current 2011-12 budget year, each House member was advised they could help various organizations net up to $51,000 in state funding for eligible community projects and each senator was allotted $131,250, according to the respective finance committee offices. If the House money is not requested, it still can be allocated elsewhere, according to the Finance Committee office.

The money, which is set aside in the state budget, is for projects that fall into five funding categories — economic development assistance, libraries, seniors, emergency medical services and schools. Each request must be approved by an administering state agency and the governor.

For example, approved CPP grants that Del. Walter Duke, R-Berkeley, requested last year included funding for pavilion and restroom renovations at Martinsburg’s Ambrose Park, the purchase of 35 iPads for Berkeley County Schools and money for thermal-imaging equipment for the Martinsburg Fire Department.

“I don’t want to see it spent elsewhere,” Duke said of the opportunity to address community needs.

Martinsburg City Manager Mark Baldwin publicly recognized Duke’s support in helping the city net funding through the CPP process for the last three or four years.

When asked about deciding not to make CPP grant requests in 2011 after four years of requesting his share, Miller conceded that many “pork projects,” as he described them, are “noble” and that good intentions drive the requests.

Miller also acknowledged that the argument if one lawmaker doesn’t request the money, someone else will, is very effective, but he insists it is still very flawed.

“If everyone is fighting for ‘their fair share’ of someone else’s money, spending will never decrease,” Miller wrote in a letter on his decision. “This mentality — that you better spend or someone else will — has helped lead our country toward the brink of bankruptcy.”

Miller, who is not seeking re-election to the state House this year, said in order to help cut spending, he decided he shouldn’t be engaging in the same behavior that helps increase it each year.

Householder said he believes the state should have set aside CPP money for broad-base tax relief such as lowering the state income tax or raising the homestead exemption for seniors.

“Or, we could have used it to eliminate the equipment and inventory taxes on our struggling businesses in this state,” Householder said in an emailed statement.

Miller is challenging U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito in the Republican primary on May 8 for Capito’s 2nd District seat in Congress.

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