Kline defends decision to stop seeking earmarks

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

(AP) - As a skeptical Scott County Board listened, U.S. Rep. John Kline defended his decision to stop seeking the millions of dollars in so-called "earmarks" awarded to members of Congress for projects within their districts.

"It is a broken process, and we need to fix it," Kline said.

However, it's a process that has delivered money for projects Scott County has lobbied for. On Tuesday, only one member of the county board publicly supported the Minnesota Republican's decision to step away from earmarks.

Commissioner Bob Vogel endorsed Kline's position, saying it's a "balance between doing what's right and what the public wants. I may be unique among commissioners in agreeing with you."

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"We are proud of those projects ... and so was he."

Vogel said the truth about earmarks was that everyone thinks stopping them "is a great idea until the arts center or the trail you want is not funded."

After the meeting, Commissioner Jon Ulrich told the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, "We wish he were in there fighting for those projects."

Scott County is one of the fastest growing in the nation, and all sides agree that it needs federal help to expand its transportation system.

Commissioners said that while it's a pity that so many political factors go into funding transportation projects, the system of earmarks is what's in place now.

It remains to be seen if Kline's decision could hurt the county, or even his own re-election chances.

"We are proud of those projects," Ulrich said, adding pointedly, "... and so was he."

Kline acknowledged that he used to call press conferences to publicized the earmarks he received. Officials said that on a project to expand County Road 21, Kline helped obtain $750,000 in 2003, $860,000 in 2004, and $2.1 million in 2005.

Kline told the board that earmarks are too often used for things like "decorative lighting for the L.A. fashion district."

But commissioners said in interviews that their projects were important.

"We don't take projects to him that aren't worthy," said Commissioner Barbara Marschall.

Speaking after Tuesday's meeting, Kline said he doubts whether the issue will get him in trouble within the Republican-leaning district.

"With county commissioners, transportation bubbles to the top," he said, "because that's so big a part of their job. They come to me and show me their maps and they have a point. But outside this room, out on the street, many things rank higher than that."

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)