Steamboat Springs Western Colorado’s front-running candidates for Congress have black-and-white differences about federal earmarks that could have significant effects on the region’s future.
Democratic U.S. Rep. John Salazar defended last week his work to bring federal dollars to western Colorado through earmarks, the practice of attaching specific funding allocations to larger bills, and he said Republican state lawmaker Scott Tipton’s hard line against the practice could cost the region millions. Tipton, meanwhile, has continued his mantra that “we can’t afford” another term of Salazar and held fast to his no-earmarks pledge during repeated campaign appearances.
Early voting is under way across the 29-county 3rd Congressional District, which covers western Colorado and reaches to Pueblo in the state’s south-central region.
Salazar, a farmer from the San Luis Valley and a member of the House Appropriations Committee, pointed to an extensive list of Northwest Colorado projects for which he’s helped secure federal funding since voters first elected him to Congress in 2004.
The list includes nearly $18 million in federal dollars for Yampa Valley Regional Airport, $750,000 for improvements to U.S. Highway 40, $1 million for bark beetle mitigation in Routt County during the past year and extensive funding in 2007 for a veterans’ health clinic in Craig.
“I’m very proud of fighting for my district,” Salazar said. “If a member (of Congress) is not going to fight to bring those federal funds to his district … they’re going to be going to those larger metropolitan areas that have more votes.
“I’m very proud of every vote that I’ve taken.”
During an Oct. 14 debate in Pueblo, Tipton said the size of the federal debt prohibits additional government spending without corresponding cuts, according to an Oct. 15 story in The Durango Herald. The Cortez businessman has campaigned on a desire to cut nondefense, discretionary government spending by 10 percent.
“What part of $13 trillion debt do you not understand?” Tipton asked Salazar before a lively crowd at Pueblo Community College, according to the Herald.
Tipton appeared this month on The Cari and Rob Show, which broadcasts out of a radio studio on Yampa Street in downtown Steamboat Springs.
He reiterated his position when asked by show host Cari Hermacinski — who also is president of the Steamboat Springs City Council — what he would do if the opportunity arose for an earmark that could help sustain coal jobs in Northwest Colorado.
“Let’s vote on it straight up, and we’ll be able to do it,” Tipton said. “My hands are tied — I signed a pledge I would have no earmarks.”
Salazar said he’s learned during his years in Congress that cutting earmarks from his district does not end the spending — rather, it means the dollars go somewhere else.
“If you don’t fight for them, they end up going to New York or California, where they have more members of Congress,” Salazar told the Steamboat Pilot & Today last week. “The money actually goes directly to states that have more population.”
Earmarks as a whole are a thorny issue in the U.S. House of Representatives, where Democrats allege a GOP track record of so-called “pork” spending and Republicans point to their one-year earmark ban announced in March.
And the path of dollars from a legislator’s request to a bill and then to actual allocation isn’t always a straight line.
Regarding YVRA, for example, Airport Manager Dave Ruppel noted that many of the federal dollars for the airport are channeled through the Federal Aviation Administration’s Northwest Mountain Region, which in addition to Colorado, includes Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.
Ruppel said the region prioritizes its projects and distributes federal dollars accordingly.
Ruppel said that process has proven to be fair to rural airports, on which Salazar said he has focused.
“We have fought very hard to make sure that rural areas have good and decent runways,” the congressman said last week.