Cities might get funding increase

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 10, 2000

President Bill Clinton’s $1.

Thursday, February 10, 2000

President Bill Clinton’s $1.84 trillion fiscal 2001 budget renewed local officials hopes Monday for continued, and better, funding of the Ironton-Huntington, W.Va., Empowerment Zone grant.

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"In the president’s budget request, he asked for $10 million as he has done in the past," U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland said.

And, despite the tax-cut debates or partisan politics that might cloud the funding request, Clinton asked for a year’s extension to the entire Empowerment program, Strickland said.

"Since we only received $3 million for each of the first two years, and were promised $10 million, the president is counting this year’s funding as if it were the second year of funding, which basically means there will be an additional year tacked on to all Empowerment Zones," he said.

"That’s good news, but we still want to fight to get the full $10 million."

Ironton Mayor Bob Cleary called the news a "terrific possibility" for Ironton and the surrounding Empowerment Zone areas.

"I knew that it was put in the president’s budget, but it still has to be approved and passed," Cleary said. "Ironton is going to have several new projects, such as our street paving and riverfront upgrades, which is all due to the current funding through the Empowerment Zone."

When the original amount was cut back, all the projects were cut back accordingly, he added.

"There were a lot of projects that we did not get to start because of the funding cuts," he said. "If this passes and we do receive the full funding, it will be a real blessing to the Tri-State because there will be so many other projects that are needed in the area that we will be able to get started on."

The 10-year $100 million federal Empowerment program, now in its second year locally, will create tax incentives, workforce training plans, housing improvements and other projects that are designed to lure new industry to the area.

The grant awards $10 million each year for Ironton and Huntington to share for accomplishing the zone’s goals.

However, the zone has yet to receive full funding in the program. Congress appropriated a little more than $3 million during the last two budget years.

The Greater Lawrence County Area Chamber of Commerce last year urged Ohio’s Appalachian legislative delegation to press for full funding of the entire program.

Clinton apparently agreed with legislators, including full funds in his budget and calling for the extension to the program because of the past monetary shortfall, Strickland said.

But, there are obstacles to the Capitol Hill funding approach – partisan politics chief among them, he said.

"The leadership of this house does not like this program and does not want to see this succeed," Strickland said. "That’s why we have had such a hard time getting the promised funds."

Other legislators, especially those from other Empowerment Zone areas, are being asked to generate broad-based, bipartisan support on the issue, Strickland added.

"And this may be a different year," he said. "With the budget situation even better than it was than last year, with the surpluses, it may be a better climate to get this funded."

Plus, when it comes to appropriating – or writing checks – for the grant program in late summer or fall, this election year might play a hand, he said.

"For both Democrats and Republicans, they will want to try to show they are doing something for the folks back home," Strickland said.

The cloud of tax cut debates that usually threaten budget items like Empowerment Zone funds also has a silver lining, he said.

"The debate will continue for the next several months," Strickland said. "They are heavily fought out and there are major difference (in both parties), but there is also a difference which is somewhat encouraging and that’s the difference within the Republican party about the size of the cut and how it should be directed."

Clinton’s budget includes $351 billion over 10 years in tax relief geared toward lower- and middle-class people, although the net tax cut falls to only $170 billion over the decade once an accompanying $181 billion in tax increases on cigarettes, corporations and others are factored in.

Republicans want much larger tax cuts, to come only from the budget surplus without offsetting tax increases. They plan to start implementing that this week with House votes on a 10-year, $182 billion bill to cut income taxes for millions of married couples, including those who pay more tax than if they were single. It is the first of several tax-cut measures likely to move in the GOP-led Congress this year, each one a part of a 10-year, $792 billion tax cut Clinton vetoed last summer.

House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., called the GOP approach a ”tax-cut feeding frenzy” that ignores the greater needs of Social Security and Medicare.

Beyond the tax fight, Republicans complained that the budget proposed dozens of new government programs and would shower largess on favored political constituencies, although independent analysts said the budget’s growth as a share of the economy would be the lowest in 50 years.

”You have distributed money to virtually every sector,” House Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich, R-Ohio, told White House officials. ”This is a Santa Claus approach.”

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.