Baldwin, Pocan Deliver for Wisconsin
Both among top members of Congress in getting earmarked federal spending for this state.
Going back half a century or more Wisconsin has been a state whose politicians seemed to disdain the idea of securing federal spending for Wisconsin. While the late Don Young, who served as an Alaska congressman from 1973 until his death this year, was famed for delivering federal grants for his state, Wisconsin politicians in both parties often seemed too pure to pursue pork.
Longtime Democratic U.S. Sen. William Proxmire was best known for mocking wasteful federal spending with his “Golden Fleece Award.” Republican Scott Walker sneered at federal stimulus money while a county executive and as governor famously turned down $810 million in federal funds for passenger rail in Wisconsin. Democrat John Norquist, during his years as Milwaukee’s mayor often slammed federal aid, saying you “can’t build a city on pity.” Democrats Russ Feingold and Gerald Kleczka and Republicans Jim Sensenbrenner and Paul Ryan never made it a priority to deliver federal dollars for Wisconsin.
As recently as 2007, Wisconsin ranked 46th in federal spending per resident. That year Wisconsin’s citizens sent $5.6 billion more in taxes to Washington than we got back in federal spending. In 2015, as I wrote, Wisconsin had actually dropped one place, to 47th in federal spending per resident.
So it was newsworthy, to say the least, that Wisconsin did so well in gaining funding from the $1.5 trillion government spending bill enacted in March by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden. The legislation included the first batch of earmarks in more than a decade and Wisconsin ranked not 47th, but near the middle, grabbing more than many states. This was mostly due to the work of two members of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation. Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who ranked 15th among all 100 U.S. Senators at earmarking spending, gained more than $187 million in funding for this state. And Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, based in Madison, ranked 5th among all 435 members of the House of Representatives, gaining more than $45 million in spending for Wisconsin.
The return of earmarks came after years of criticism of “pork barrel spending,” particularly by Republicans. However, some of the top pork procurers from this bill were Republicans, including those who voted against at least part of the budget package. Ranking first in the Senate and far ahead of any member of Congress was Alabama Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, who gained more than $551 million for his state, followed by South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who got more than $361 million for his state. The top member of the House was Missouri Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, who secured $56 million for his district.
Baldwin offered a statement itemizing the impressive list of 59 different grants she won for this state, including 17 for southeast Wisconsin. They range from $23,000 for the Frederic Arts program in northern Wisconsin to $5 million to Racine for Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee transit and $5 million for a Brown County bridge project. Her grants for Milwaukee included $2.5 million for the county mental health emergency center, $2 million for new county transit buses, $2 million for to provide employment and job training services for low-income and underrepresented job seekers through Employ Milwaukee, three grants totaling nearly $3 million for Marquette University projects and $1 million for a right-to-counsel program run by the United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha.
Pocan released a statement that listed the nine projects for which he secured funding in his district, with by far the biggest grant, for $39.7 million, to help pay for a new plant breeding facility at UW-Madison.
Meanwhile. one Wisconsin politician did everything he could to assure this money did not go to Wisconsin. Republican Senator Ron Johnson not only voted against the omnibus budget legislation, but also supported an amendment that would have stripped all of the congressionally directed spending in the bill, including the $187 million secured by Baldwin and the $45 million secured by Pocan.
Do Wisconsin taxpayers care about this? I can’t recall them ever defeating a member of the state’s congressional delegation on this issue. They will get another chance this fall, when Johnson runs for reelection. While Baldwin in her nine years as senator has been focused on delivering funding for Wisconsin, it’s simply not a priority for Johnson.
If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real, independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits.