Politics

Leahy seeks hundreds of millions in earmarks for Vermont in his final year as appropriations chief

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy speaks during a press conference in Montpelier in October. File photo by Glenn Russell/VT Digger

Updated at 10:11 p.m.

For the second year since the return of congressional earmarks, Vermont projects are poised to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding. But with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., set to retire early next year, such spending could soon dry up. 

Leahy, who chairs the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, announced Monday that he had included more than $212 million in funding for 38 Vermont initiatives in a series of spending bills up for consideration in Congress. Those 12 appropriations bills, which fund the federal government, must clear both houses and be signed into law before the money starts flowing. 

The earmarking process allows members of Congress to designate federal funds for specific projects in their districts. The practice was banned for a decade after Republicans criticized it as wasteful and prone to abuse. After Leahy took the helm of the appropriations committee last year, he worked to restore earmarking — and that has been a boon to Vermont

Last fiscal year, Leahy secured more than $167 million worth of earmarks for the state.

Among the largest individual appropriations Leahy is seeking this year are $34 million to renovate and expand Burlington International Airport; $30 million for the University of Vermont’s Honors College; and $25 million for the Lake Champlain Geographic Program. 

In a written statement Monday, Leahy said he was “proud to work with community leaders across our great state to identify projects and priorities that would make a real difference in the lives of Vermonters.”

With Leahy preparing to leave his powerful perch in the Senate, Vermont institutions may not be able to count on the funding he has historically secured. Members of the appropriations committee tend to take home the most cash — and the committee’s most senior members take home the most of all. 

Vermont’s two other members of Congress, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., are also able to earmark funds for Vermont, but they have historically secured less. In the 2022 appropriations process, Sanders earmarked $38 million and Welch $8 million. Welch is also set to lose his seniority in the House as he seeks to succeed Leahy in the Senate. 

On Monday night, Sanders announced that he had successfully included $42 million worth of funding for 51 Vermont projects in next year’s spending bills. 

Sanders’ most expensive earmarks included $4.2 million to expand access to medical and dental care in Brattleboro; $3.5 million to upgrade and renovate the Barre Municipal Auditorium; $2.5 million to the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board to expand affordable homeownership; $2.2 million to replace an aging water main in Barre; and $1.5 million to help build a childcare center in Morrisville. 

Welch’s office did not immediately provide details on Monday of its earmark requests for the next fiscal year.

Leahy’s spending requests include several focused on revitalizing Vermont’s downtowns and supporting community centers. In a press release, he described both as “the heart of who we are as Vermonters.”

Those earmarks include $12 million to revitalize Burlington’s Cherry Street and improve pedestrian access to the Church Street Marketplace; $10 million for the Preservation Trust of Vermont’s Village Community Trust Initiative; and $10 million to support and preserve Vermont libraries. 

Other Leahy earmarks would benefit the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation ($8.5 million); Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies ($8 million); the Vermont Air and Army National Guard ($6.7 million); Saint Michael’s College $6.5 million); the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence ($5 million); and the Leahy Center for Lake Champlain ($2.35 million). 

Also on Monday, Leahy announced additional “programmatic funding” that would benefit Vermont, including $40 million for the Northern Border Regional Commission; another $40 million for various other UVM initiatives; and $40 million for the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in White River Junction. 

Monday’s announcement does not ensure that the money will arrive in Vermont soon — or ever. That hinges on whether Congress passes all 12 spending bills.

As of Monday, six such bills had passed the House, and none had passed the Senate.The new fiscal year starts Oct. 1, but Congress seldom treats that as a hard deadline. It often passes a series of “continuing resolutions” that keep the government running but don’t fund new earmarked projects. Many of last year’s spending bills, for example, were not signed into law until this March.

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Lia Chien

About Lia

Lia Chien is a student at American University in Washington, where she is majoring in journalism and working on the student newspaper, the Eagle. A resident of Bolton, she also was the editor of the Profile at Mount Mansfield Union High school and comes to VTDigger as a Dow Jones News Fund intern.

Email: lchien@vtdigger.org

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