U.S. Rep. is seeking $6.7 million in federal dollars to pay for special projects in Ashland.

Whether the fifth-term Hood River Republican can deliver is largely up to President Bush, who has called on Congress to curb government spending or risk having key appropriations bills vetoed.

If approved by Congress, Ashland could be in line for, among other things, $2.2 million to purchase land to build 56 affordable housing units for low- and moderate-income families with annual incomes of less than $42,300 for a family of four.

Walden, either alone or with other lawmakers, also proposed $2.4 million for safety improvements to five local railroad crossings, $1.5 million for fire mitigation at the Ashland Creek Watershed, and $600,000 for Southern Oregon University to review studies on at-risk youths and develop a social services net for a group of struggling students at Ashland High School and a local residential treatment center.

"He casts a wide net and hopes to get some here and there," Walden spokesman Andrew Whelan said of the federal appropriations requests, adding that the proposals have yet to be approved by committees.

The projects were proposed by The Ashland United Front &

an informal coalition of city policy-makers, the Ashland School District, the Chamber of Commerce, Community Works and Ashland Community Hospital.

While the partisan dynamic in Washington has shifted, with Democrats now in the majority, Seltzer said, "Our priorities have not changed."

However, with President Bush's calls on Congress to trim the fat from the federal budget, Ashland may have to wait yet another year to upgrade five of the city's nine rail crossings that are the "most hazardous," including a crossing adjacent to Ashland Middle School.

Under the microscope

Earmarks, or money for lawmakers' back-home projects, have come under increasing scrutiny for the way they've magically found their way into past federal budgets with little or no discussion.

You see, once awarded, earmarks suddenly morph into political trophies that give a member of Congress bragging rights for "bringing home the bacon." Critics, however, charge the process for congressional add-ons bleeds the behemoth federal budget and even fosters corruption.

Earmarks are particularly troubling to open-government advocates since the process of approving pork-barrel projects, as they are often called, has been traditionally cloaked in secrecy, with members of Congress not revealing their requests to the public until they've been given final approval.

This year, however, Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, decided that earmarks and their sponsors will be listed in The Congressional Record a month before they come up for final approval.

"Appropriation requests are under much more scrutiny than they have been before, and maybe that's a good thing," said Ann Seltzer, a management analyst for the city of Ashland.

She said the group's four budget requests are the same ones that were introduced unsuccessfully in the previous three sessions.

Walden lets in some light

Walden is among a small handful of lawmakers who posted their earmark requests on their office's Web site.

He is the only member of Oregon's congressional delegation to do so, and one of only some-60 of the 435-member House to disclose publicly the requests he introduced into the 12 federal appropriations bills, according to taxpayer advocates.

Annie Patnaude, a spokeswoman for Americans for Prosperity, a free-market group, applauded Walden for "having the courage" to post his budget requests, and chided others for not doing the same.

"These lawmakers were elected to Congress to lead," Patnaude said. "If they have nothing to be ashamed of then they should put their requests out there."

Leslie Paige, a spokeswoman for Citizens Against Government Waste, a Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan watchdog, said when lawmakers post their requests it gives federal taxpayers an opportunity to raise questions and the sponsor to defend the request, if necessary.

Walden's "constituents should be pleased that he is giving them &

and all taxpayers &

an opportunity to look at his list," she said.

covers politics for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at csrizo@hotmail.com.