Federal dollars en route to Northern San Joaquin Valley

San Joaquin Valley earmarks are alive and well in a huge spending bill about to be signed by President Barack Obama.

After a flurry of reform rhetoric, lawmakers slid several thousand targeted spending projects into the $447 billion package that's secured final House and Senate approval. Obama could sign the legislation within days.

The omnibus appropriations bill funds dozens of federal agencies through fiscal 2010. Critics call it bloated. Defenders consider it essential, citing money for local projects such as Stanislaus County police radios.

"I am always pleased to obtain these funds for our community," said Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced. "They provide a significant and direct means of improving the quality of life for our residents."

Cardoza and Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, requested local earmarks. Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, did not.

"The congressman feels there's far too much federal spending going on at this time and wants to take any opportunity to rein in the deficit," Radanovich's press secretary, Spencer Pederson, said Monday.

The federal government ran a $236 billion surplus in 2000. Driven by war spending, tax cuts, recession and domestic program expansions, the government currently is running a $1.4 trillion deficit.

Cardoza was the sole representative to request the $425,000 provided for a college preparatory math and science program to be run in Merced County.

Earmarks often reflect ongoing projects that motivate funding requests every year.

The funding package, for instance, includes an additional $300,000 for a Stanislaus County "interoperability" project to enhance the ability of law enforcement agencies to communicate with one another with a common radio system. The project is a perennial priority for county officials in their lobbying visits to Capitol Hill.

Like many earmarks, the Stanislaus County project received less than local officials asked for. In March, officials said they needed $2.5 million.

"We just really need to rebuild our radio system," former Modesto Police Chief Roy Wasden said then.

The next congressional step will be final approval of a $626 billion defense spending bill, whose many earmarks have not yet been made public.

Other earmarks in the bill about to be signed by Obama include:

$520,000 for a Castle Airport instrument landing system. The money will pay for installing a system for the airport's Runway 13, designed to help pilots land in inclement weather.

$341,000 for a feasibility study of flood control work along Orestimba Creek in Stanislaus County. The Army Corps of Engineers study has been under way for a long time.

$10 million for the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. The money will help retrofit heavy vehicles and replace on-road and off-road vehicles, in an effort to cut emissions.