Posted: Dec. 10, 2004


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

No one here is using federal dollars to build a weather museum the way they are in Pennsylvania, just because a varmint named Punxsatawney Phil gets dragged out every Groundhog's Day for some shadowy superstition.

Nor did anyone in these parts go to the federal government for $443,000 to figure out how to make baby food with salmon in it, as they did in Alaska.

Even so, Delaware did just fine in a massive congressional spending package, officially called the 2005 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush earlier this week.

Within the $388 billion measure, most of which goes to keep the bulk of the federal government running, there are projects worth about $36 million purely for Delaware, according to the state's congressional delegation, which was responsible for putting them in there.

The delegation -- Democratic Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Thomas R. Carper and Republican Rep. Michael N. Castle -- seems proudest of the money for beach replenishment, more than $7.5 million, which was described in a joint press release as "the fifth-highest amount of federal money" for beaches in any state.

"All of our top priorities got funded. We consistently do well, because we have bipartisan and bicameral support, because the appropriators will look for any excuse not to fund a project," said Elizabeth B. Wenk, deputy chief of staff for Castle.

The omnibus bill is legislation that the Congress hates to love. It is where the members earmark federal spending for their home states, a practice that simultaneously endears them to constituents but opens them up to much ado about pork, as in, my delegation brings home the bacon, but your delegation gets pork.

As in, does Wisconsin really need federal money for a Paper Industry International Hall of Fame?

The worthiness of most of the Delaware projects seems self-evident, at least at home. Among them are $5 million a piece for the interchange at Interstate 95 and Delaware 1 upstate and the Indian River Inlet Bridge downstate, $500,000 in technology upgrades for the state and New Castle County police, and $275,000 for nursing schools downstate.

The projects to watch out for, though, are the ones that delegations, here and elsewhere, justify as boosts to "tourism" or "economic development" but otherwise seem a little harder to explain as appropriate appropriations at the federal level.

There is, for example, an amount of $250,000 coming this way for a pedestrian bridge at the Wilmington Riverfront. "The federal government participates in various economic development projects around the country," said Bill Ghent, press secretary for Carper.

Then there is the Delaware Aerospace Education Foundation, which is getting $750,000 in this bill to add to $4.4 million it received in federal dollars in previous years. The foundation, run by Stephanie M.G. Wright, who was once an applicant for the Teacher in Space program of the 1980s, has become adept at tapping into a federal space-age account that tends to be overlooked.

The foundation probably is known best for running space camps for third through tenth graders, but it is on its way to an upgrade. It broke ground last year for a center in Kent County south of Smyrna. All three members of Congress were there with hardhats and shovels to pose for the camera.

"It's a solid program that will contribute back to Delaware. We're right smack in the middle of the state, so teachers and students and parents can reach us," Wright said.

But federal money? "It is the only one of its kind. It will be a tourist attraction. It encourages young folks to get involved in science and technology," said Margaret Aitken, press secretary for Biden.

Wright explains her project this way -- as outreach from the federal space program that in turn builds support for the space program.

That is, after all, the same model that members of Congress use -- send the money home so that home will send them back to Washington.

The Delaware delegation generally tries not to overdo it. Only three joint press releases were issued to announce the projects. Compare that to Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat. He sent out 50 releases all by himself.