WASHINGTON — At a time when his colleagues in Congress and rivals in the U.S. Senate race are spurning federal spending on earmarks, Rep. Kendrick Meek is asking House budget writers for nearly $238 million in projects.
Meek's requests — posted on his Web site by Monday as required by the House — range from $100,000 for "teaching healthy lifestyle choices to children'' through the Haitian American Alliance Youth Foundation to $37 million for dredging Miami Harbor so it can accommodate larger vessels.
His Republican Senate rivals have attacked earmark spending as a symptom of Washington overspending: Gov. Charlie Crist vows not to seek earmarks if he's elected to the Senate, and his primary rival, Marco Rubio, has the support of a national critic of earmarks — though Rubio backed local projects as a state legislator.
Meek suggests his Senate rivals would react differently if they were members of Congress, who every spring are besieged by a parade of local governments, schools and charities looking for a slice of the federal budget.
"I don't look it as being a fiscal conservative if you are willing to take away your ability as an elected official to assist a local community in its needs," he said.
The Miami Democrat did not put in any requests for private companies, saying he agreed with House leaders who decided earlier this month to ban earmarks that benefit for-profit businesses. But he has done so in the past.
Meek drew criticism in 2006 for pushing a $4 million earmark for the failed Poinciana Industrial Park. The project was scrapped amid questionable spending by its developer and construction delays, but Meek — whose mother, Carrie Meek was paid at least $40,000 in consulting fees for the project — said his intent was to boost employment in a blighted area of his district.
The vast majority of his requests are for local governments: school buses; sewer lines; research projects at schools like Florida International University and Meek's alma mater, Florida A&M University; and aid for nonprofits like United Way.
In a recent interview, Meek said seeking federal spending for local projects is part of his job. "People are paying federal taxes down in Florida, and they deserve some return on those taxes," he said. "People send us here to D.C. to bring resources back to the local community.''
Meek is unlikely to secure but a fraction of what he has asked for: Of requests for more than $260 million last year, he pulled down $5.5 million in individual earmarks. He pulled down a total of $34 million in earmarks with South Florida's delegation.