Georgia earmark proposals near $100M despite few requests from Republicans

WASHINGTON — Eight members of Georgia’s U.S. House delegation, including all six Democrats, have collectively submitted requests for almost $97 million through a process called earmarking to fund projects ranging from public safety communications in the tiny town of Pelham to a “deck park” that would span across Atlanta’s Downtown Connector.

Meanwhile, all but two Georgia Republicans decided not to participate, forgoing the chance to funnel dollars to their districts in the name of good government. Earmarks are a chance for members to request federal funding for local, district-based projects.

In her letter accompanying the request for $1.2 million to help build the deck park known as “The Stitch,” U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams wrote that it would be a good use of taxpayer dollars. She said the project will generate jobs and boost the local economy.

“The Stitch project directly aligns with local, regional, state, and federal government policy objectives for investment in transportation infrastructure,” she wrote. “Specifically, it would improve mobility and access, create jobs and boost economic and community development, and revitalize the downtown region of Atlanta.”

Earmarks, formally called community projects, made a return to this year’s budgeting process after a 10-year hiatus. In an effort to increase transparency and cut down on allegations of “pork barrel spending,” lawmakers implemented new rules, such as limiting the amount of projects each member can request to 10 and capping the overall amount to 1% of discretionary spending, or about $15 billion.

Members were responsible for vetting requests, and the new law required them to post information online about each of the projects they submitted.

Williams, a Democrat from Atlanta, solicited proposals using an online form. Her final list also includes a $200,000 request for the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge of Georgia to renovate and restore the old Southern Christian Leadership Conference offices in Atlanta.

The House Appropriations Committee will eventually vet the hundreds of requests and come up with a final list to include in the budget for 2021-2022.

Years ago, it was common for multiple lawmakers to work together to lobby for funding for certain projects. But with the number of requests capped at 10 each this year, that happened with only one project in Georgia.

U.S. Reps. Barry Loudermilk, Lucy McBath and David Scott all submitted the same request for $1 million for the Cumberland Community Improvement District to make improvements at Paces Mill Park near the Palisades Trail.

Six of Georgia’s eight Republicans — U.S. Reps. Rick Allen of Evans, Andrew Clyde of Athens, Drew Ferguson of West Point, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Rome, Jody Hice of Greensboro and Austin Scott of Tifton — declined to participate, joining about half of their caucus members in sitting out the earmark process.

These lawmakers cite past abuses and say that the process contributes to excessive government spending and increases the national debt.

“Nothing epitomizes what is wrong with Washington more than pork-barrel spending in the form of congressional earmarks,” states a letter from conservative members, including Greene and Hice.

The U.S. Senate has not yet come up with a policy for how its members will request funding for local projects but is expected to follow the House’s lead.

Earmarks aren’t the only way lawmakers can funnel federal dollars through their districts. Millions more in transportation and infrastructure projects for Georgia could receive money through a separate, preexisting request process. Proposed projects on that list include repairs to Georgia freeways, road widenings and funding for local transit agencies.

But it is the earmarks that have received the most scrutiny over the years. U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter and Loudermilk are the only Georgia Republicans who decided to submit proposals.

Loudermilk, from Cassville, made six requests totaling $31.3 million. Carter, from Pooler, submitted three projects worth a combined $9.4 million. His requests include programs through Georgia Tech and Georgia Southern University that operate within Carter’s 1st Congressional District and $2.9 million for a beachline improvement project on St. Simon Island.

“The community project requests I submitted are all important for the 1st District,” Carter said. “I submitted the requests our office received that were eligible.”

ExploreGeorgia Democrats embrace return of earmarks for local projects

What are earmarks?

Members of Congress can request federal dollars for specific projects, or earmarks, in their districts. Then-U.S. House Speaker John Boehner banned earmarks in 2011, citing instances of waste and abuse. Democratic leaders have brought the process back this year but with new limitations and transparency requirements they say will improve public confidence.

Earmark requests for Georgia

A list of projects submitted by Georgia’s U.S. House delegation with price tags above $1 million.

U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany

  • $3.9 million for the city of Albany to renovate and create wellness programs at Georgia-Driskell Park
  • $2.2 million for Phase I of a renovation and rehabilitation project for the Ritz Theater and Cultural Center in Albany
  • $2 million to create a community food hub for the Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education
  • $1.1 million for the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers to develop a virtual caregiving assistance platform throughout Georgia
  • $1 million for the city of Bainbridge to assist with water and wastewater infrastructure costs tied to the construction of a new industrial park
  • $1 million for the Phoebe Putney Health System to purchase two mobile health clinics

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, D-Suwanee

  • $1.5 million for Georgia Gwinnett College to support STEM living learning communities

U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler

  • $5 million for the Georgia Institute of Technology for a coastal equity and resilience hub
  • $2.9 million for Glynn County for the Johnson Rocks Revetment Project on St. Simon Island
  • $1.5 million for an Army holistic health and fitness program at Georgia Southern University

U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia

  • $3 million for the Gwinnett County Department of Transportation for a Snellville-area microtransit project
  • $2 million for the city of Avondale Estates for a street project along U.S. 278
  • $1 million for Georgia Piedmont Technical College for a regional transportation training center

U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville

  • $14.2 million for Bartow County for Cass-White Road Phase II
  • $8 million for the Town Center Community Improvement District in Kennesaw for widening Big Shanty Road
  • $5.3 million for the city of Kennesaw for infrastructure improvements
  • $2.3 million for the city of Acworth for the Lake Acworth master plan implementation
  • $1 million for the Cumberland Community Improvement District for Paces Mill/Palisades unit rehabilitation (also requested by U.S. Reps. Lucy McBath and David Scott)

U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta

  • $6.5 million for the city of Roswell for the Ace Sand Riverbank Restoration and Floodplain Protection Project
  • $5.5 million for the city of Roswell for a new 911 emergency communications call center/emergency operations center
  • $1 million for MARTA for Brookhaven station rehabilitation
  • $1 million for the Cumberland Community Improvement District for Paces Mill/Palisades unit rehabilitation (also requested by U.S. Reps. Barry Loudermilk and David Scott)

U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Atlanta

  • $2.5 million for Cobb County for the Chattahoochee RiverLands Pilot Project Phase II
  • $1.7 million for the Cumberland Community Improvement District for a multimodal path
  • $1 million for the Cumberland Community Improvement District for Paces Mill/Palisades unit rehabilitation (also requested by U.S. Reps. Barry Loudermilk and Lucy McBath)

U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta

  • $2.2 million for Hosea Helps for warehouse facility expansion
  • $2 million for the city of East Point for water treatment plant renovations
  • $1.2 million for the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District for Phase I of “The Stitch” park across I-75/85