Three of Iowa's four U.S. House Republicans submitted the maximum number of fifteen earmark requests for federal funding in fiscal year 2024, which begins on October 1.
U.S. Representatives Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-01), Ashley Hinson (IA-02), and Zach Nunn (IA-03) were among the numerous House Republicans who asked for "Community Project Funding," which Congress directs in several dozen areas of the federal budget. Iowa Capital Dispatch reported on May 14, "The sum of Nunn’s requests is the highest, at $41.25 million. Miller-Meeks is second with $40.15 million, while Hinson requested $37.06 million."
For the third straight year, Representative Randy Feenstra (IA-04) declined to submit any earmark requests. As Bleeding Heartland previously discussed, Feenstra's staff has said the Republicans "believes it is time for Congress to restore fiscal stability and balance our budget." But earmarked projects come out of funds the federal government will spend regardless. So when a member makes no requests, that person's district loses its chance to receive a share of money that has already been allocated for earmarks.
Thanks to transparency rules established in 2021, the funding requests submitted by Miller-Meeks, Hinson, and Nunn are available online. Once the 2024 budget has been finalized, Bleeding Heartland will report on which projects received funding for the coming fiscal year.
The Iowa Capital Dispatch article by Ashley Murray and Ariana Figueroa highlighted an apparent contradiction: many House Republicans who have demanded steep cuts across the federal budget have asked for millions of dollars to support projects in their own districts. That has long been the case with earmarks: one person's valuable community investment can be portrayed as wasteful pork in someone else's district.
Roughly half of the federal funds Miller-Meeks requested were spread across a half-dozen road projects.
- $6,145,656 to reconstruct Wisconsin Street in the city of LeClaire (Scott County), including storm sewer and sidewalk/trail to link "shopping areas, recreational parks, residential neighborhoods" and connect "the heart of LeClaire to the Mississippi Riverfront and Mississippi River trails."
- $4.9 million to Warren County to resurface "approximately 7 miles of roadway on County Highway G76 from the City of New Virginia to State Highway 69."
- $3.4 million to the city of DeWitt (Clinton County) "to extend East Industrial Street and related utilities," connecting to U.S. Highway 30 and opening up more than "120 acres of property for industrial/commercial development." In addition, "The purpose of the project is to expand the City's Industrial Park and to create additional industrial and manufacturing jobs in the region."
- $2.5 million to the Jefferson County Secondary Road Department to "provide a safe, paved route for students" in the Pekin School district who live in and around Packwood.
- $2 million for the city of Wilton (Cedar and Muscatine counties) "to improve the intersection of Highway 6/38 and 5th Street (Old Highway 6) and improve 5th Street between Highway 6 and Liberty."
- $1.5 million for the city of Pella (Marion County) to extend University Street approximately 5,300 linear feet, "which is intended to provide a critical transportation linkage to a preferred residential growth area in the City of Pella’s Comprehensive Plan. This area of the community is in close proximity to Madison Elementary School, Pella Community School’s Early Learning Center, Pella Christian High School, and the Pella Sports Park." The project includes a new water main for the area.
Hinson did not seek funding for any road projects in IA-02.
One of Nunn's requests was for $4.5 million to reconstruct part of 8th Street in the city of Altoona (Polk County). The funding includes a plan "to add streetlights and underground existing overhead utilities," and to complete a shared-use path to "benefit walkers and bicycle riders" and connect to "the Gay Lea Wilson regional trail system as well as the Vern Willey II trail system."
Although Iowa has long been among the worst states for structurally deficient bridges, the 45 earmarks requested by Iowans for the coming fiscal year included just one bridge repair project. Nunn asked for $2.5 million to replace "the existing structurally deficient, narrow, and weight-restricted 91-year-old bridge" on Bevington Park Road in Madison County. His request described the project as "an investment into a long-term asset of public infrastructure that will provide services for many years for agricultural goods and services, fire and rescue, schools, and mail routes."
Nunn also asked for $4.8 million to be allocated to Appanoose County Community Railroad "to build a 6-mile rail line to enable 100-car trains to pull in, load, and unload." The request asserted that the rail spur project "will cut transport costs significantly for all farmers in our region" and would facilitate "two major economic development projects in Appanoose County that themselves have a value of approximately $2.5 billion combined." It also justified the spending as a way to "support public-private partnerships squarely focused on improving US food security (with soybean meal) and creating a renewable domestic fuel supply (soybean oil)."
Wastewater treatment/sewer systems
Iowans sought federal funds for six wastewater treatment projects, five of them located in Miller-Meeks' district.
- $5 million for a sewer separation project in Fort Madison (Lee County). "During periods of increased runoff following rain events or snow melt, the flow in the combined system exceeds the capacity of the interceptor sewer and flows directly to the Mississippi River." The project will require some road reconstruction after new sewers and storm sewers are installed.
- $2 million for the city of Mediapolis (Des Moines County) "for modifications to the sewage treatment lagoon system to meet ammonia effluent compliance," so the city will "no longer face enforcement action" from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
- $1.08 million for the city of Oskaloosa (Mahaska County) to bring the city's "two wastewater facilities into compliance" and "to create additional capacity to serve the Oskaloosa Innovation Park – a new 500-acre certified industrial park."
- $1 million for the city of Morning Sun (Louisa County) "to upgrade the city’s wastewater treatment plant to meet final nitrogen and ammonia limits."
- $1 million for the city of Winfield (Henry County) to "upgrade the city’s wastewater treatment plant to comply with ammonia, E. coli effluent limits and dissolved oxygen limits." The request mentions that Winfield "is 59.9% low to moderate income and a disadvantaged community."
Hinson requested $1 million for the city of Eldora (Hardin County) to "drastically improve the resiliency of water and wastewater infrastructure." The town's current "Supervisory Controls and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems have been discontinued by the manufacturer, leading to significant challenges in obtaining replacement parts" and forcing the town to monitor facilities "24 hours a day, 7 days a week to ensure system compliance."
Drinking water or industrial water systems
Hinson and Nunn each requested funding for three projects in this area. The IA-02 requests:
- $5 million to help the city of Grinnell (Poweshiek County) replace their current water treatment facility (which is more than 100 years old) with a facility that has back-up power and will more reliably remove radium from the water supply.
- $2.8 million for the city of Mason City (Cerro Gordo County) "to expand its water infrastructure to reach a large economic development area on the southwest side of the city." Hinson's letter suggests the water would be primarily for business or industrial use, rather than for residential drinking.
- $2 million for the rapidly-growing city of Peosta (Dubuque County) "to expand its water systems facility’s capacity by constructing a new well and wellhouse, water tower, and watermain extension."
The projects in IA-03:
- $4,537,500 for the city of Minburn (Dallas County) to "provide a drinking water system that meets the current and future needs of the community."
- $2.5 million for the fast-growing city of Bondurant (Polk County) to build a new water tower and water mains, and acquire land for a new water treatment facility and well.
- $2 million for the city of Ankeny (Polk County) to improve "the drinking water distribution system to enhance reliability, increase capacity, and replace obsolete infrastructure," ensuring reliable drinking water for the next 20 years.
Flood prevention or mitigation
More than a third of the funds Hinson requested fall into this category. She asked for $11 million to support the city of Dubuque's Stormwater Pumping Station Project, which is designed to prevent recurring flooding in some neighborhoods. The city has already completed several phases of this project but delayed construction of new flood gates and pumps after bids received last year came in well above the estimated costs.
At the request of the Clayton County Farm Bureau, Hinson also asked for $3 million to be allocated to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct "long-overdue updates" to flow frequency data along the Upper Mississippi River. The goal is to allow northeast Iowa communities "to better forecast major flood events, reducing loss of life and minimizing damage from extreme weather events."
Nunn requested $4 million for Iowa Confluence Water Trails to modernize an aging low-head dam near Fleur Drive in Des Moines, "enhancing safety, and expanding on-river recreational opportunities." He noted that the private sector has raised more than $30 million and the state of Iowa has already allocated $22 million toward parts of this project, which aspires to connect "150 miles of rivers and creeks in Central Iowa."
All three Republicans sought one earmark for an airport project in their districts.
Miller-Meeks asked for $2,484,000 for the Southeast Iowa Regional Airport Authority in Burlington to rebuild the entrance road, with stormwater improvements to prevent flooding which has damaged parked vehicles in the past.
Hinson asked for $2.5 million to design "a centralized aircraft deicing facility and a snow removal equipment storage facility at the Eastern Iowa Airport" in Cedar Rapids. The goals are to "improve efficiency and resiliency against winter weather, [...] reduce delays, improve safety, and mitigate environmental impacts."
Nunn asked for $6 million "to complete the second phase of construction for a new DeIcing Apron at Des Moines International Airport," which "serves a significant portion of the state of Iowa" and "often receives diverted traffic from other major airports in the Midwest."
Eight requested earmarks would support some kind of education programing. Miller-Meeks asked for $2,989,523 to help the University of Iowa's Department of Physics and Astronomy purchase "advanced manufacturing equipment, new semiconductor fabrication tooling, and satellite communications hardware." Miller-Meeks said, "The investments will enable the University of Iowa to produce graduates with the engineering, mathematics, programming, and data analysis skills needed to support Iowa’s continued growth in technical sectors like advanced manufacturing, financial services, and aerospace/defense."
Miller-Meeks also asked for $2 million to support the planned Regional Innovation Center of the North Scott Community School District in Eldridge, Iowa. "Current pathways the district will expand include carpentry, electrical, plumbing, and certified nursing assistant. Planned new pathways that connect to postsecondary certifications or careers include: animal care, culinary arts, emergency medical technician, entrepreneurship & marketing, diesel mechanics/ag engineering technology, food science & nutrition, turf & landscape, and veterinary technician assistant."
Hinson is seeking $5 million to support a new Smart Automation and Robotics Center at Hawkeye Community College. She wrote, "The project would create a manufacturing hub in Waterloo, Iowa, that directly feeds into several manufacturing businesses and supports our domestic supply chain."
Also in IA-02, Hinson put in a request for $1 million for the Four Mounds Foundation in Dubuque. That group is building a workforce training center that will focus on "re-developing low-income housing through renovation projects that put students’ new skills to use."
Finally, Hinson asked for $225,000 to help Coe College in Cedar Rapids "acquire a high-performance computing unit, as well as Multiphysics and analysis software to continue its important research on space-radiation safe glass and the Mars ionosphere." Apparently the college "already has a strong partnership with NASA" and has raised private funds to support the project.
Nunn's largest request in this area would bring $2 million to the Des Moines Area Community College to redevelop the Transportation Institute, which trains skilled truck drivers. Similarly, he is seeking $1.75 million for Indian Hills Community College "to expand and enhance the commercial driver skills training area on the North Campus in Ottumwa."
The last education request for IA-03 would dedicate $250,000 to Iowa Jobs for America’s Graduates in Des Moines. The program "provides underrepresented youth and recent high school graduates with mentoring, academic tutoring, job training and postsecondary placement," and could reach an estimated 550 more students with planned expansions.
HEALTH CARE AND WELLNESS
Each member of Congress submitted one request to support medical facilities. Miller-Meeks asked for $2,159,000 to build a new Lee County Health Department/EMS bay. The department has been leasing space for more than three decades and plans to build a new facility on property already donated to the country.
Hinson asked for $1.1 million to expand and modernize the the maternity health care unit at the Gundersen Palmer Lutheran Hospital and Clinics in West Union (Fayette County). The facility also serves patients in neighboring rural counties, which are "maternity care deserts."
Nunn is seeking $2,010,747.75 to build a new dialysis center at the Wayne County Hospital in Corydon. The hospital serves a 75-mile, six-county area and has apparently raised the rest of the money needed to pay for this center.
Another request from Nunn would dedicate $1,808,000 to the Walnut Creek YMCA in Windsor Heights to renovate parts of the building. Nunn said the project would "improve the health and wellness of all individuals in the community, expand the Y’s youth development programming, and enhance the safety of the facility."
Hinson asked for $500,000 to support the Clayton County Affordable Housing Project, which hopes to build ten to fifteen new homes across the county.
Nunn requested $1.6 million for a project to renovate a youth homeless center in Des Moines. "It will encourage homeless youth to enroll and use free academic, health, wellness, and educational community programming," he wrote, and the funding would "serve approximately 500 additional individuals over a 5-year period."
Hinson asked for $750,000 to help the Sumner Daycare and Learning Center in Sumner (Bremer County) build a stand-alone facility. "With this new facility," she wrote, "Sumner Daycare would be able to hire more staff members, serve over 100 children, meet the needs of the rural community and workforce, and assist low-income working families." Sumner "lies in a child care desert and serves a three-county rural area with a population of 2,032."
Hinson submitted two requests in this area. At the request of the Sac & Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa, she's asking for $900,000 to help build a holding facility or jail on the Meskwaki Settlement in Tama County. The support letter explains that an on-site correctional facility would provide safety and address "the cultural needs of criminal offenders" by allowing them to maintain tribal rituals and practices. "The Meskwaki Nation has its own practices, beliefs, and rituals, and being able to have an individualized corrections process whereby the Tribe can ensure Tribal sovereignty is of the utmost importance," promoting deterrence as well as rehabilitation.
Hinson is also asking for $287,000 to help the Howard County Sheriff's Department purchase handheld radios and a microwave communications link connecting seven locations in the county.
In IA-03, Nunn is seeking $1 million for Polk County to build a new Sobering Center, "the one piece in Polk County's continuum of mental health and substance abuse services that is still missing." The idea is to divert more individuals in crisis from jails and emergency rooms, which are more expensive for taxpayers.
Top illustration of the proposed Stormwater Pumping Station Project was first published on the City of Dubuque's website. Representative Ashley Hinson requested $11 million in federal funding for this project, which would replace two 90,000 gallon per minute pumps that are more than 50 years old with four new pumps of the same capacity.
Earmark season used to be dreaded by some conservationists...
...because so much of the funding was used to destroy tens of thousands of acres of land in order to build big reservoirs, big irrigation canals, and other landscape-destroying dubious water projects. It sometimes seemed that Congressman Neal Smith never met a U.S. water project that he didn't love, no matter how bad it was for the environment. Ames had a narrow hard-fought escape from his proposed Ames Reservoir.
Compared to those days, this earmark list looks pretty good. Now I hope the bad old years will not be revived in other states.