Sunday, January 5, 2003

City to Congress: Where's our money?


Unapproved fund bills delay millions for Freedom Center, bus plaza, airport

By Carl Weiser
Enquirer Washington bureau

WASHINGTON - When Congress returns Tuesday, the first thing Greater Cincinnati needs is the money Congress was supposed to send last year.

Congress adjourned without passing most of the fiscal 2003 budget, even though the fiscal year began Oct. 1. (The government continues to operate at 2002 levels.)

PROJECTS HELD UP
WASHINGTON - The federal budget is divided among 13 spending bills. Only two, both related to defense, have been passed so far, even though the new fiscal year began Oct. 1.

It's rare for Congress to finish them all before the start of a new fiscal year. But budget tardiness this severe is unusual.

In 1980 - like this year, a contentious election year - partisan debates forced the spending bills into the new year. President Reagan signed the last of the fiscal 1981 bills in June, three months before the fiscal year ended.

Some of the Tristate projects in limbo:

Cincinnati

Government Square, $6.4 million (Senate version), $4 million (House version).

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, $6.1 million.

Ohio River Trail around Lunken Airport, $750,000.

Ohio River Trail for Columbia Tusculum, East End, $350,000.

Giving Lunken airport priority for grants.

Fairfax

$3 million for flood relief along Little Duck Creek.

Northern Kentucky

Navigational aids for Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, $4 million.

New buses for the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky, $3 million.

Covington waterfront study, $100,000.

Dearborn County, Ind.

High Street revitalization, Lawrenceburg, $1.2 million.

Region

Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments planning study, $200,000.

Ohio River

Reducing pollutants in watershed, $1.5 million.

Gannett News Service

Those unapproved spending bills that make up the 2003 budget include millions for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, the Government Square bus plaza, and an estimated $20 million alone for Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

"We need that immediately," said Barbara Schempf, the airport's government affairs manager.

Beyond passing last year's budget - and then, of course, the regular 2004 budget - Congress will take up issues that will directly affect every Tristate resident.

Perhaps nothing Congress does this year will have more of an impact on the day-to-day lives of Cincinnati area residents than a new transportation bill.

As it does every six years, Congress will write legislation that controls how much money goes to highways, bridges, and transit - and, just as importantly, how that money is divided among states and cities.

Ohio gets back 88 cents of every dollar it pays in gas taxes, something Ohio's government and congressional delegation are determined to change this year.

Lawmakers will rush to include local projects, such as reinforcing or replacing the 39-year-old Brent Spence Bridge that carries interstates 75 and 71 over the Ohio River.

"It's obviously a priority. It's falling apart. It needs to get fixed up," said Sen. Jim Bunning's spokesman, Mike Reynard. Also on Mr. Bunning's list: an improved Three Mile Road exit to serve Northern Kentucky University.

Local transportation officials will fight to make I-75 a higher priority because of its importance as an international freight route.

"One thing a lot of people don't think about when they think about highways is that they're a precursor to most economic development projects," said James Q. Duane, executive director of Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments.

Confirmations on agenda

Also at the top of the congressional delegation's list is the confirmation of new judges for vacancies on the Cincinnati-based U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

In 2001, President Bush nominated two conservatives, state Supreme Court Justice Deborah Cook and Columbus lawyer Jeffrey Sutton. The Democratic-controlled Senate never gave them a hearing.

Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has pledged to move their nominations right away. Ms. Cook's confirmation hearing could come as early as Jan. 14.

Ironically, Mr. Sutton could find himself a victim of the controversy over Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., the former majority leader who stepped down after making racially controversial remarks.

Civil rights groups, now seeking signs of change from the GOP, have pledged to fight Mr. Sutton's confirmation. He has argued in court against congressional intrusion into state's rights, fighting against parts of the Violence Against Women Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The city of Cincinnati also will be looking for more federal help for its police and fire departments, Mayor Charlie Luken said.

It is looking for money to buy thermal-imaging cameras, infrared cameras that allow firefighters to see people inside smoky buildings. The city also will be looking for money for a computer system to better track officers. That's so the city can comply with its settlement with the U.S. Justice Department over Cincinnati police officers' use of force.

"We need money. Everybody needs money," Mr. Luken said.

County needs sewers

Hamilton County will be looking for cash to help it come up with a homeland security plan. That plan will provide answers to such questions as what the county should do if the national color-coded alert system ratchets upward.

The county also is seeking money to help revamp its warning-siren system.

"Some of them are so old they don't have any backup power system. So if the electricity goes out, they're gone," assistant county administrator Peter Hames said.

And Hamilton County has additional wishes, such as aid to help separate its storm drains and sewer lines.

During heavy rains, the combined pipes shoot untreated sewage into the Ohio River, Mr. Hames said.

Last year the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reached a partial settlement that could force the district to spend more than $450 million toward eliminating the discharges, which violate the Clean Water Act.

Rep. Rob Portman will be looking for money to renovate the University of Cincinnati's Medical Sciences Building and build a new cancer treatment and kidney dialysis center in Brown County.

Greater Cincinnati businesses will be looking to Washington for money for the growing life sciences research community, for new trade agreements, and for help for the aviation industry.

What happens in Washington this year is important to Tristate businesses, said Michael Fisher, president of the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce.

"Everything from homeland security to transportation investment dollars to trade policies to research dollars - those things are critical to the health, the growth, the opportunities for our businesses."




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