|The Editorial Page
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Letters and E-Mail
February 9, 2000
WRITE YOUR REPRESENTATIVES
Here are the addresses and phone numbers of your officials in Washington:
U.S. REP. ED WHITFIELD
U.S. SEN. JIM BUNNING
U.S. SEN. MITCH McCONNELL
U.S. REP. DAVID PHELPS
U.S. SEN. RICHARD DURBIN
U.S. SEN. PETER FITZGERALD
Local projects get usual treatment
The never-ending budget games played by the nation's leaders are not a source of amusement for the people of western Kentucky. Two projects of great importance to this area currently are bogged down in these petty political contests, leaving the average citizen to wonder how anything ever gets done in Washington.
Paducah and McCracken County leaders and workers at the gaseous diffusion plant still are waiting to see just how much money the federal government is going to spend on cleanup and worker health programs at the uranium enrichment facility.
Meanwhile, the leaders of the river transportation industry, which plays a major role in the regional economy, are still wondering about the Clinton administration's commitment to funding the construction of a new lock at Kentucky Dam.
The $450 million lock project has been in the works for years. The president himself publicly promised funding for the construction of the lock. But, for reasons unknown, Clinton has consistently refused to include enough money in his proposed budgets to ensure the lock is completed in a timely fashion.
The federal government's mismanagement of cleanup operations at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant has turned into a national scandal. Responding to the controversy, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson promised - and the Clinton administration budget contains - $109 million for Paducah.
This represents a doubling of the amount allocated last year for environmental cleanup and worker health testing.
But, of course, nothing that comes out of Washington can be taken at face value. Officials with a union that represents plant workers and 1st District U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield say $24 million of the $109 million request touted by Richardson is money that was carried over by the Department of Energy from previous years.
In other words, this is taxpayers' money that was already promised but left unspent.
The new funding Richardson and Clinton are seeking for the cleanup certainly is welcome. Again, however, the average citizen must be baffled - and somewhat disgusted - by the Washington math employed by administration officials. Ordinary folks assume that a promise of $109 million in next year's budget will translate into $109 million in new funding.
When it comes to President Clinton's promises, western Kentucky residents are learning to never assume anything. In 1996 the president declared, during a campaign stop in Paducah, that his budget for the next fiscal year would include money for construction of the lock at Kentucky Dam.
In reality, that proposed budget didn't contain enough funding to begin design work on the lock. The president's next budget request didn't offer a penny for the project.
Fortunately, Kentucky's congressional delegation was able to work the appropriations process effectively enough to get the lock project on track. But the president still is trying to derail it by proposing funding that is well short of what's needed to ensure the lock is completed by 2007.
Clinton's proposed fiscal year 2001 budget sets aside $14.9 million for Kentucky Lock. Marshall County Judge-Executive Mike Miller, a member of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Authority, estimates at least $30 million is needed to keep the project on schedule.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to close the existing lock for repairs in 2008. If the new lock isn't ready by then, the river industry will have to spend $250 million on alternate transportation.
It's worth pointing out that ground already has been broken for the lock. The project is under way; now it's up to the president and Congress to move the money along that's required to finish it.
We're not aware of any serious debate over the need for the new 1,200-foot lock. Clearly, the lock will play an important role in the nation's commercial transportation network. River industry officials say about 50 million tons of commercial freight moves on the Tennessee River system.
The old 600-foot lock is widely recognized as an impediment to the efficient movement of freight on the Tennessee.
So why is it so difficult to obtain the necessary funding? The answer lies in the Washington budget games. During these games, vast amounts of the taxpayers' money are pushed back and forth on the table, the budget is balanced or rigged into balance, deals made and broken and all sorts of promises kicked around until a trillion or so dollars actually are spent.
The games may be intriguing to Washington insiders, but they're frustrating and sometimes dispiriting to the folks back home who must rely on their elected representatives to fund the necessary functions of government.