Rep. Kline declines congressional earmarks

Rep. John Kline, R-Minn.
U.S. Rep. John Kline, Republican in the 2nd Congressional District
MPR File Photo/Tom Scheck

Rep. John Kline is one of just a dozen House members to decline to accept congressional earmarks - also known as "pork-barrel" spending - calling them a "corrupting" influence in Congress.

The move has angered some officials in his district, but not all.

"It's shocking and disturbing," said Dakota County Commissioner Will Branning, who heads a partnership working on the Cedar Avenue Cedar Avenue Transitway, which was seeking about $6 million from Congress this year. "For one congressman to do it, it puts us in a box."

"I decided not to submit any appropriations requests for projects until integrity is restored to the earmarking process."

But Ted Seifert, a county commissioner in Goodhue County, said, "I'd rather have a principled person representing me than somebody who's able to go through the back doors in an underhanded way."

Kline, R-Minn., didn't decline earmarks until Democrats took over the House this year, but he says his change isn't about which party controls Congress.

"I came in, somewhat naively I admit, thinking I was going to compete for my district, like everyone else does," he said. "I've got some very worthwhile projects. Then the realization kept coming back year after year that this is preposterous."

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Before this year, he took credit for millions of dollars in projects in the district. But at the beginning of the year, Kline told local officials he wouldn't sponsor special spending requests for his district.

Kline also voted against a spending bill which included $195 million to replace the collapsed I-35W bridge, which the White House has threatened to veto. He said he supports the money, but is taking a stand against a system where seniority and personality trump merit.

"If I'm in there fighting for my projects on the merits and I get $7 million, and somebody who's been here longer gets $200 million, that's not a program I want to participate in," he said. "It's a program I want to change."

But Margaret Donahoe of the Minnesota Transportation Alliance said, "If the money doesn't go to Minnesota for Minnesota projects, it will go to other states for their projects."

Kline didn't announce his decision until he posted it on his Web site in July.

Starting in January, he announced, "I decided not to submit any appropriations requests for projects until integrity is restored to the earmarking process. That integrity has not been restored."