See the $300M in Maine projects moving forward in Senate earmark process

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Oct. 20—Roughly $300 million could flow into Maine next year as more than 100 projects here secured funding requested by members of the state's congressional delegation through a revitalized earmark process.

The Senate Appropriations Committee released its remaining 2022 funding bills earlier this week after months of negotiations. Although not all the projects requested by Maine lawmakers made it into the final legislation, a new fire station for the town of Rumford, rail improvements in northern Maine and a child care center in Bath are among those to get funding if Congress passes 12 spending bills as currently drafted.

Earmarks, or money allocated by members of Congress for specific projects in their states, were a familiar feature of the legislative process until a decade ago, when lawmakers banned them citing concerns about corruption and waste. But Democrats, with the support of some Republicans, opted to bring them back this year, arguing that including funding for specific projects in each district or state could help achieve compromise.

All four members of Maine's delegation submitted requests earlier this year. House members were capped at 10 requests each, while senators could submit as many requests as they wanted. There was some overlap between requests.

The projects included in the final legislation vary widely in scope. The largest is $93 million that Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, requested for improvements to the Coburn Gore port of entry in western Maine. The smallest is $23,000 requested by Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, to make accessibility improvements at St. Albans' town office.

Other notable projects include $1.6 million requested by Collins to install a PFAS treatment system at a wastewater facility in Madison, which Gov. Janet Mills lauded as a "critical step" in the state's efforts to address the so-called "forever chemical."

Maine senators were well-positioned to advocate for projects in the state with Collins serving on the influential appropriations committee and King as a member of the Democratic caucus that is in the majority. Some Republicans opposed to earmarks did not make any requests, which effectively left more money for senators like Collins who support the process.

Earmarks still account for less than 1 percent of overall funding allocated in the appropriations bills, which also include spending on a range of other government functions, such as the military.

The timeline for the ultimate passage of the spending legislation remains unclear. Three of the bills have already passed committee in the Senate, while the remaining still face a vote there. The House has already released its own 12 spending bills as passed nine of them, but the two chambers still need to reach an agreement on topline figures.

Congress must authorize additional spending before Dec. 3 to prevent another government shutdown. If lawmakers do not pass the appropriations bills before then, they will instead have to pass a continuing resolution and return to the bigger spending bills later.

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