CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Last year, U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito requested 87 "earmark" projects, including sewer/water projects for 27 communities, 5 highway projects and Charleston library construction. She secured $21.4 million for 19 projects.
Now, Capito says she will not ask for earmarked federal funding for her district in the 2011 or 2012 federal budgets.
Capito "has joined with Republican colleagues in the House for a two-year moratorium on earmarks," press secretary Jamie Corley said. The Congressional Republican Conference voted in mid-November to ban 2012 earmark requests.
"Congresswoman Capito believes West Virginia should have access to funds for projects and development, but we need to take a step back and reassess the way we appropriate the money," Corley said.
"With all due respect, this will hurt us in West Virginia," Kent Carper, president of the Kanawha County Commission, said Thursday. "Earmarks here pay for bridges, safe airports, fire trucks, ambulances, police protection.
"The Republican leadership has done such a great job yelling that earmarks are wasteful, that people believe it now," Carper said. "But a lot of sewers and local water systems in this state wouldn't be there without earmarks. We wouldn't have the KRT bus system without earmarks."
Newly-elected Republican Rep. David McKinley will not request earmarked projects for the 1st District either, spokesman Richie Parsons said Thursday.
Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin asked Thursday why elected officials would need to block community projects as they improve the process.
"Our constituents elected us to represent them, to do as much as we can to make sure West Virginians get what they need," Manchin said. "So I won't be hiding behind a party decision. I'm not going to roll over and say OK, I won't do that part of my job for the next two years."
"There's a fundamental misunderstanding out there about earmarks," said Charleston Mayor Danny Jones, a Republican.
Earmarks are less than 1 percent of the budget, he said. "People talk like they're somehow added to the budget, that they're extra. They think earmarks add to the deficit. But in fact, earmarks are directions on how to spend money Congress already appropriated."
If earmarks aren't there, he said, agencies decide how to spend the money, not elected officials.
"Charleston has done well with earmarks," Jones said. "Look at Haddad Riverfront Park or the University of Charleston pharmacy school. But it looks like that may be coming to an end."
For 2011, Rep. Nick Joe Rahall submitted 77 requests for 3rd District projects, including 13 Corps of Engineers projects, the King Coal Highway, US 52, five other highway projects, mine safety training, and numerous water, sewer and health programs.
"I'm proud of every one of them," Rahall said. "They are vital to communities I represent. They include a lot of basic infrastructure: roads, waterways, water systems, all critical to private sector growth."
The earmark process has been improved, he said. Before 2007, anonymous requests could be submitted.
"Now we go through a lengthy process to justify them, and we put our names on them," Rahall said.
"If Congress does not earmark to specify ways agencies should spend these budget dollars," he said, "then unelected, faceless federal bureaucrats decide how to spend them, and I can tell you right now that they will not give them to a small state like West Virginia."
Neither Capito or McKinley were available for interviews last week. Both supplied brief written statements.
The two-year moratorium is not intended to end earmarks, Capito wrote. "It's about providing more transparency, accountability and guidance in the earmarking system. As we have seen in the media for years, there are good and bad earmarks. But we are also in a new era of government responsibility."
McKinley "is in favor of eliminating earmarks," Parsons said.
In the 2010 budget, Capito's 19 earmarked projects included: