Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King have unveiled their requests for congressional earmarks, the member-proposed funding initiatives that are returning to Congress after a decade-long ban.

Unlike the House, which limited each member’s requests to 10 earmarks, the Senate is allowing far greater latitude to its members, resulting in an avalanche of requests.

Collins, a Republican, put forward 75 requests totaling $256 million. King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, made 99 requests totaling $203 million.

“The Senate is using pretty much the old-school way of doing things: ask for the moon and be happy with a few acres,” said Mark B. Harkins, a former appropriations staffer and lobbyist who is a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Government Affairs Institute.

By comparison, the 10 requests put forward in April by Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, totaled just $6.5 million, while the requests by Rep. Jared Golden, D-2nd District, totaled $6.9 million. All four members of Maine’s congressional delegation limited their beneficiaries to nonprofits and governmental entities.

The senators’ requests – which remain wish lists until they are adopted into draft spending bills by members of the Senate’s appropriations committee – would shower money on municipalities and the state Department of Transportation to build, repair, or expand roads, bridges, rotaries, railroads, playgrounds, trails, wastewater systems and other infrastructure. If all were adopted, fire stations would be expanded, renovated and replaced in Corinna, Limerick, Machiasport, Rumford and Washburn.

Unlike their House colleagues, the senators also made requests benefiting federal agencies, including by far the largest single earmark request: Collins’ $93.8 million request to allow the U.S. General Services Administration to rebuild the port of entry at Coburn Gore in northernmost Franklin County.

Collins also asked for $2.5 million for the Navy to replace the fire station at its facility in Cutler. The Army Corps of Engineers would be the beneficiary of four earmarks from Collins totaling $1.98 million for dredging-related projects in Isle au Haut, Searsport, Ogunquit and Thomaston. Collins asked for $1.17 million for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conserve the headwaters of the Kennebago River in northern Franklin County. King requested $2.2 million for the U.S. Forest Service to purchase 2,276 acres in Oxford County to add to the White Mountain National Forest.

The largest single recipient of the senators’ requests is the Maine Department of Transportation, which would get just shy of $149 million if all were approved – $83.5 million from King’s earmarks, $65.4 million from Collins – for a variety of infrastructure projects across the state.

A handful of nonprofits were included in the senators’ lists. Collins proposed funding for the Harrison Food Bank and Community Center, the United Way of Greater Portland, the Bangor YMCA, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Kennebec Valley, among others. King’s requests include the Harrison Food Bank, the Western Foothills Land Trust, Coastal Enterprises Inc. and the Bath YMCA.

Collins also requested $1 million for the Passamaquoddy Tribe to improve low-income housing at Indian Township and another $1 million for an eel aquaculture project on the same reservation.

“I recommended projects that I believe would strengthen our economy, address key infrastructure needs, make our citizens safer and provide important support for Maine people in need,” King said via email.

Collins said in a statement that her office had a transparent process for soliciting and considering requests. “I submitted a number of excellent proposals from all across Maine that will promote job creation and economic development, improve infrastructure, enhance the wellbeing of Mainers, and protect our environment,” she said.

Many Senate Republicans have opposed the restoration of earmarks, but Collins said she believes the new system has sound safeguards: transparency, the exclusion of for-profit companies; and assurances that members of Congress do not personally benefit.

HOUSE EARMARKS ADVANCE

In a separate development, the House members’ requests advanced this week. All 10 of Pingree’s earmarks and seven of Golden’s were incorporated into committee markups of the appropriations bills.

This is a significant hurdle, according to Harkins, who says these earmarks are now likely to be funded when the spending bills are passed by both chambers, particularly in Pingree’s case because she chairs one of the House appropriations subcommittees, a position of considerable influence in that chamber.

“If an earmark makes it into a bill it’s rare that it gets pulled,” Harkins said. “You can’t take them to the bank at this stage, but you can expect that they will make it.”

He said Golden’s earmarks also would be on good footing because he’s a Democrat who has managed to get elected and re-elected in a district that voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020. “Leadership will want to do everything they can to help him get re-elected,” he said.

The majority of Pingree and Golden’s requests were duplicated by one or both senators, further ensuring they will eventually be funded. Pingree’s request for $1.7 million to complete restoration of Portland’ Abyssinian Meeting House also was on both King’s and Collins’ lists. Golden’s requests for $1 million to replace the roof of Lewiston’s Bates Mill Number Five and $350,000 to renovate Gardiner’s Johnson Opera House also were matched by both senators.


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