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LI members of Congress get few earmarks they seek

Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, left, and Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand

Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, left, and Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand talk at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. (Nov. 24, 2009) Credit: Newsday File / Craig Ruttle

WASHINGTON - When it comes to the much criticized but also much sought-after earmarks to federal spending bills, it never hurts to ask. But don't get your hopes up.

That's a key lesson emerging from a comparison of what Long Island members of Congress asked for in earmarks in 2010 spending with what actually was funded - a comparison made possible for the first time this year by new public disclosure rules.

And it's a lesson that's not lost on Long Island's five U.S. representatives, who as a group won funding for only a quarter of what they asked for.

In the spring, for the first time they posted their earmark requests on their Web sites as required by new rules. Their wish lists included 393 earmarks for local projects, nonprofits and defense firms at a cost nearing $1 billion.

But Congress funded just 97 of those earmarks, for a total of $267 million.

And $202.5 of that money is for just one of those earmarks, the East Side Access project to tie the Long Island Rail Road into Grand Central Terminal.

That leaves just $65 million scattered among 96 projects. The funds will go to a variety of projects, such as after-school programs, dredging coastal inlets and research. But most requests will go unfunded.


Who did well, who didn't

Winners and losers in Long Island's delegation also emerged from comparing disclosure documents.

Surprisingly, Rep. Peter King of Seaford, the only Republican of the five, won the most money, $222.5 million, even if his $202.5 million East Side Access earmark isn't counted.

Veteran Democratic dean of the delegation, Rep. Gary Ackerman of Roslyn Heights, won the least amount of money, $5 million.

Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola) nearly tied for the largest number of requests, but Bishop won nearly twice as many earmarks.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) submitted the fewest requests but won nearly two-thirds of them, the best ratio by far among the five.

Still, as a group, the five lawmakers are bringing home the least earmark money in three years.

Setting aside the East Side Access project, their earmark funding plummeted from $148 million in 2008 to $65 million in the 2010 spending bill.

Does that mean Long Island lawmakers are lagging?

, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan group that studies earmarks, said Long Island's experience confirms "everything we previously believed - lawmakers get a lot less than they ask for and even get a haircut on what they submit that is funded."

Process still not totally clear

The new disclosure rules shed light on earmarks, but much about the process remains murky.

That starts with lawmakers, who now must make requests public, a dicey balancing act. They know earmarks are criticized as "pork" and a political short-circuiting of the budget, but groups in their district still clamor for earmark money.

Israel said he screens hundreds of requests and submits just those that fit district priorities and needs. King and Bishop said they do the same.

McCarthy, however, posted and submitted all requests from the district. But an aide admitted her staff ranked them for appropriators.

"We're trying to make this as transparent as possible," said McCarthy aide Michael Spira.

Ackerman also posted all requests from his district but then submitted a smaller list to appropriators.

The House allows lawmakers to do that, but Ellis complained it hides what lawmakers really want funded.

It also gives lawmakers a low success rate in winning earmarks.

After Ackerman saw he won just a fraction of the 55 earmarks for $105 million on his published list, an aide provided the smaller list he actually submitted: 18 earmarks for $30.3 million.

That list raised his success rate to nearly half of requests and a sixth of funds sought. (His new list was too small to change the delegation's rate much.)

Asked about having two lists, Ackerman said, "We're just doing what's required."

>> TABLE: Click here to see 5 charts, each showing the earmark requests and how much was actually received for Long Island's Congressional delegation

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