Kline change on earmarks irks some local officials

  • Article by: HERÓN MÁRQUEZ ESTRADA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 3, 2008 - 1:26 AM

Kline finds no "hypocrisy" in celebrating road funds obtained through earmarks.

U.S. Congressman John Kline has been among the most vocal critics of earmarking millions of dollars in federal money for specific projects in the home districts of U.S. senators and representatives.

But the Second District Republican wasn't shy about appearing at a ribbon-cutting last week in Prior Lake to accept congratulations for obtaining more than $2 million to remodel one of the most dangerous roads in Scott County.

"Absolutely not," Kline said when asked if it was a problem for him to celebrate the success of an earmarked project while being against the practice.

The reason, he said, is that he earmarked the Scott County money years ago when he was like most members of Congress, pushing for special projects in their own districts.

During the 2003, 2004 and 2005 fiscal years, Kline obtained more than $4 million for Scott County transportation projects, including $2.1 million to upgrade a milelong stretch of County Road 21 east of Hwy. 13.

"I'm not asking for earmarks anymore," said Kline, who more than two years ago became one of the first members of Congress to publicly decry earmarks, which each year run into billions of dollars. "I absolutely believe that the system has gotten out of control."

That change in position has not set well with many elected local officials in Kline's district, especially counties such as Scott that each year would receive as much $1 million to $2 million from the federal government in transportation earmarks.

"That is a concern when there are so many needs," said County Commissioner Barbara Marschall, who like other board members has been trying to get Kline to change his position.

Lezlie Vermillion, Scott County's public works director, said Kline's political stance on earmarks has not had much of an impact on her projects as yet because federal dollars are not included in budgets until they are actually received.

"Regardless of his position on earmarks, the County Board ... will continue to talk to him about the importance of transportation funding," Vermillion said.

Kline said that is fine with him. He said he is willing to offer his support to projects he deems worthy, such as the County Road 21 project.

"This is a project that can stand on its own merits," Kline said before the ribbon cutting. "This is the kind of earmark that a member of Congress should be proud of."

That belief did not stop Kline's opponent from blasting him.

"This is just sheer hypocrisy," said Bridget Cusick, deputy campaign manger for Steve Sarvi, the former Watertown mayor who is running against Kline.

Sarvi, in a prepared statement, faulted Kline for calling earmarks "corrupt" and "corrupting" in past comments, but nevertheless pushing for such funds for Scott County.

"Far from being the champion of fiscal responsibility he wants us to believe he is, John Kline has been part of our fiscal problem in Washington," said Sarvi.

Since Kline's change, the County Board has had to pay all of the road costs. County commissioners said this has not caused a cancellation or delay of projects as yet, but it has meant making hard choices between transportation and other county programs.

"We are still trying to figure out what it all means," Marschall said. "That's not to say that we won't be making some difficult choices."

Heron Marquez Estrada • 612-673-4280

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