The 23rd Congressional District that includes Santa Barbara County was denied $13.8 million in federal grant opportunities when an annual appropriations bill was removed from Senate discussion in late December.

Congresswoman Lois Capps earmarked the funds over the course of last year to provide for 14 projects within the 23rd district, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) ended consideration on the omnibus appropriations bill in late 2010 due to strong Republican opposition against the $1.1 trillion federal appropriations measure. Amongst a number of other county projects, the nearly $14 million in earmarks slated for Santa Barbara were intended to help build an education facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base, modernize the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara and modernize areas of the U.S. Highway 101.

Congresswoman Capps’ press secretary, Ashley Schapitl, said Majority Leader Reed removed the bill from discussion because the Republican minority was overwhelmingly in favor of maintaining existing funding levels.

“Republican opposition to earmarks caused Majority Leader Reed to pull from the floor the proposed bill and Congress will instead pass a continuing resolution,” Schapitl said. “Basically it will continue to fund the government agencies at the same level as last year.”

According to Schapitl, Congresswoman Capps was perturbed that Republican dissenters also had earmarks included in the appropriations bill. Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell spearheaded the opposition against congressional earmarks for members’ states, but despite his resistance in the Senate, Schapitl said McConnell had set aside similar funding for his state within the bill.

“Congresswoman Capps thought it was hypocritical for feigning opposition when 42 earmarks worth $86 million had been set aside for his state in the bill,” Schapitl said. “It was a last attempt at good relations in his own state.”

Schapitl said the 23rd district will now have to pursue alternative opportunities for federal grants outside of earmarked funds in order to complete the 14 projects that have been stalled by the resolution.

“There will still be an opportunity to compete for competitive grants but the process would take longer,” Schapitl said. “Congresswoman Capps can write a letter of support but she cannot directly demand grants from these departments.”

According to Rick Scott, president of the Santa Barbara Cancer Center, Capps had procured $650,000 in financing through earmarks for a new outpatient facility.

In spite of the bill’s failure, Scott said donations will continue to support the center’s main procedures.

“Day-to-day operations have fortunately remained unaffected,” Scott said. “The only project affected by this loss of funding is the aforementioned building project.”

The Santa Barbara County Association of Governments had also requested $1 million to pay for the costs of widening U.S. Highway 101 with two additional high occupancy vehicle lanes and adjusting the Carpinteria Creek Bridge in order to meet new federal flood maps and guidelines. Capps had secured $650,000 of their request.

According to County Public Information Officer Grant Heart, congressional earmarks are often used as political weapons by legislators from opposing camps. The nearly $14 million loss for the 23rd district is “a good example of how the political rhetoric of earmarks is misleading,” he said.

Additionally, Schapitl said public misunderstanding of earmarks is partially responsible for the failure of the bill to pass through the Senate.

“A common misconception about earmarks is that their cost is added to the overall cost of the bill,” Schapitl said. “Without the earmarks, the cost would [be the same], it would just be up to the departments to decide how to appropriate these funds. The overall costs would be the same, but it would be awarded in a competitive grant process.”