Congressman Peter King addresses a special committee hearing of New...

Congressman Peter King addresses a special committee hearing of New York's city council. (Feb. 12, 2010) Credit: Photo by CRAIG RUTTLE

WASHINGTON - Two years ago, Rep. Peter King earmarked a $190,000 federal grant to give a badly needed boost to Tuesday's Children, a Manhasset charity founded to counsel children of Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack victims.

Last year, the Seaford Republican again helped the nonprofit, which has seen many of its private donations dry up, by funding its counseling for first responders and recovery workers with a $750,000 earmark. That represented nearly half of its $1.7 million budget.

But now Tuesday's Children and other local groups find themselves in a bind, because King cannot direct any federal funds to them this year after House Republicans imposed a one-year earmark moratorium.

"We might have to stop some of the counseling services," said Terry Sears, the group's chief executive. "That's not good news for anybody."

Tuesday's Children and other groups are caught in the crossfire of a fight between Democrats and Republicans about which party is more transparent and ethical.

But the nonprofit also finds itself in a pinch because of an unreliable earmark system, said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

It depends on politicians' favors, he said, not on fair competition, a funding formula or a merit-based selection process open to all groups.

"Earmarks by their very nature are that way because it's a fickle process," he said. "It's really a political muscle process."

King declined to be interviewed for this article.

Lawmakers still struggle over earmarks, which are popular with local groups but castigated as "pork barrel politics."

 

Expanding the measure

On March 10, House Democrats banned earmarks to for-profit entities but allowed them for nonprofits and local government. The next day the House Republican Conference announced a moratorium on all earmarks for this year.

Senate Democrats and Republicans, however, refuse to follow their House colleagues' lead and will still do earmarks.

The suddenness of the new earmark rules affected all members of the House.

Three of Long Island's four House Democrats omitted for-profits from the requests they posted, as required, on their Web sites on March 22.

But Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Roslyn Heights) posted his list early, before the for-profit ban, and included about a half dozen earmarks for Northrop Grumman and other defense firms. Those earmarks are now void.

 

Targets of budget cuts

Earmarks represent just 1 percent of discretionary spending but are tempting targets for White House budget cuts.

That hasn't stopped Long Island's four House Democrats: They posted 375 requests worth $628 million this year, up from 337 requests for $383 million last year - though only a quarter of them were funded.

King posted no earmarks.

Instead, King backed overall budgeting of federal programs such as $1.1 billion for the Byrne Justice Grant program for police agencies nationwide, $20 million for Securing the Cities homeland security grants and a 7 percent increase in funding for the National Institutes of Health.

Tuesday's Children was not the only local group affected.

In the past three years King has earmarked nearly $6 million for projects in Glen Cove, including construction of a fast ferryboat terminal and repairs to downtown parking structures. And for the past two years he has sponsored the $200-million-plus earmark for the East Side Access project to bring the Long Island Rail Road into Grand Central Terminal.

"While Congressman King will not be submitting earmark requests this year for municipalities such as Glen Cove, he will, of course, assist them in federal matters," said King's legislative director, Kerry Ann Watkins. "He will do the same with outstanding organizations such as Tuesday's Children."

As for East Side Access, a full funding grant agreement now exists, she said, and "there is no need to submit an earmark request this year."

Sears acknowledged she'd have to turn to private sources of revenue, though she said she hoped King could work something out on federal funding.

Glen Cove Mayor Ralph Suozzi said King is not happy about the moratorium. But Suozzi said his city might just have to wait for more federal earmarks until next year, "when the moratorium lifts."

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