Despite what he called the troubling financial situation of the federal government, U.S. Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Las Flores) told the City Council Wednesday that he will accept and support its requests for $1.3 million in federal funding for two local projects.
His annual visit to City Hall was punctuated with comments from angry watchdogs who called on him to toe the fiscal-conservative line by rejecting the appropriations that the council had requested. They said that at a time when both the city and the federal government are strapped for cash, now is not the time to be allocating money for what they said are unnecessary projects.
“It has become customary for our City Council to request from you federal tax dollars,” San Juan resident Ian Smith told Calvert during the public meeting. “All of these requests are difficult to obtain in the best of times. However, we taxpayers realize these are not the best of times.”
But their arguments are moot. On both sides of the aisle, Congress is freezing requests to grant money to local projects.
"The federal government is in trouble, and I don't think that's any secret. We have significant financial problems," Calvert said. He is more familiar than most with the budget woes, as he serves on the House's Appropriations Committee, "or as some people call it nowadays, the dis-appropriations committee," he said.
"We have taken a recess from earmarks for a while. There will be no earmarks in any appropriation bills this year," he added.
The council is seeking federal dollars to extend Alipaz Street so that it connects Calle Rio Vista to Oso Road and to complete the expansion of the groundwater recovery plant. City officials say they will be no longer be reliant on outside water supplies by the end of the year, thanks to the plant expansion, which is expected to deliver about 7 million gallons of water daily.
Although a few of the council members touted the city's ability to soon be self-reliant with regard to water—a feat commended by Calvert—brought to the congressman's attention that there are many residents who oppose the expansion of the plant.
"Communities that are less dependent on water will not be affected by rationing and will have certainty in the costs," Calvert said, referring to State Water Project rationing and the forecast rise in imported-water costs. "Those communities who are independent in the long term will be financially better off."
Plant critics say they oppose it because it has cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars and is only pumping at about half-capacity. Two wells are non-operational due to a Chevron MtBE leak, a gasoline additive that seeped into the aquifer.
According to San Juan's financial officer, Cindy Russell, in the past 10 years, the city has added $64 million of debt to pay for improvements at the plant. She identified all of the city's debt at the request of , who, following the comments from the Capistrano Common Sense members, asked staffers to bring some "factual information" into the discussion with the congressman.
She said that as of Dec. 31, 2010, there was $200,000 in debt in the general fund, the catch-all budget for basic services such as public safety; $47 million in debt; and $33 million in "voter-approved" debt—bonds issued after the voters approved them.
"I can’t even believe that we would be asking anyone for any money," said Kim McCarthy. "You’re just asking to be part of the problem."
The council members and their detractors did seem to agree on one issue: Calvert's proposal to mandate that all businesses in the U.S. use E-Verify, a government-run Internet program that checks the eligibility status of workers.