Dems say Tipton ‘inconsistent’ on federal funding projects
ASPEN – Congressman Scott Tipton doesn’t appear to be applying his cleaver evenly to the federal budget.
The same month that Tipton declined to support a $25 million federal grant to the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA), he lobbied colleagues to approve federal funding that will benefit a research center in Pueblo.
“It’s kind of an apples and oranges thing,” said Tipton spokesman Josh Green.
Tipton represents the 3rd Congressional District, which sprawls across western Colorado and into the San Luis Valley. The district includes Pitkin and Garfield counties.
Tipton, a Republican from Cortez, was asked in May to join other members of Colorado’s Congressional delegation to sign a letter urging the Federal Transportation Authority to release a grant that would allow RFTA to expand its bus service in the valley. U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, as well as Rep. Jared Polis, all Democrats, signed the letter on May 12. Tipton declined.
Green said Tipton supports mass transit but objected to the full appropriation of the $25 million because it leaves no “wiggle room” to analyze the project and make possible cuts.
“The congressman’s objection is not to expanding the bus line and expanding access to public transportation,” Green said. “The objection is to the call for full $25 million appropriation that does not allow for congressional oversight to go through that and trim out things like broadband Internet access on buses – things that are luxuries at a time when we’re looking at a $14.3 trillion debt.”
The wireless connection is a $15,000 item, according to RFTA. Because of a cost-sharing agreement, the federal grant would pay about $9,000 of that bill; local funds would cover the rest.
Less than two weeks after withholding support for the RFTA grant, Tipton went to bat to secure federal funding that will benefit the Transportation Technology Center Inc. (TTCI) in Pueblo. The TTCI is a subsidiary of the Association of American Railroads. The center’s website says it conducts research with the goal of “accelerating the use of clean, safe and efficient technologies by railways worldwide.” The center provides hundreds of jobs for Pueblo.
The Pueblo Chieftain newspaper reported May 25 that Tipton wrote a letter to the chairman and the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development of the House Appropriations Committee. He urged priority funding for the Federal Railroad Administration’s research and development program in fiscal 2012.
The Railroad Research and Development Program received $35.1 million in the fiscal year 2011 continuing resolution approved by Congress. The Pueblo research center receives up to $5 million annually in federal grants through that program, according to Green.
When asked if the TTCI funding will get the same level of scrutiny for “luxuries” that RFTA’s grant received, Green answered philosophically.
“The congressman does continue to look at every single thing with a fine-toothed comb,” Green said.
The Colorado Democratic Party looks at Tipton’s action differently. His positions on the RFTA grant and the railroad research funding are “clearly” inconsistent, said Matt Inzeo, communications director for the Colorado Democratic Party.
“It appears the congressman is either playing favorites or taking two positions on local project funding,” he said.
Both Pitkin County and Pueblo County favored Democrat John Salazar over Tipton in the November 2010 election. However, Tipton ran a closer race in Pueblo and the more heavily-populated county might be key to any re-election bid next year.
Tipton lost by more than a 2-to-1 margin in Pitkin County in November. He garnered just 2,085 votes to Salazar’s 5,059 in the liberal county.
In Pueblo County, Tipton received 22,071 votes to Salazar’s 29,988.
Tipton’s central campaign vow was to slash federal spending. He said the Congressional tradition of earmarking funds for projects needed to end. Earmarks are automatic appropriations that members of Congress secure for their constituents. Projects weren’t necessarily scrutinized for their merits.
Inzeo said Tipton’s actions on the Railroad Research and Development Program has the appearance of an earmark. Inzeo said he wasn’t criticizing the funding for the Pueblo research center. Both the RFTA bus service expansion and the TTCI research are vital to their communities and have strong support, he said. Tipton’s approach to funding the projects that warrants scrutiny, he said, because “there is the appearance of an inconsistency on the part of a public official.”
Green said the funding for the railroad research program isn’t an earmark. Tipton is promoting funding across-the-board for a program. The TTCI is only one of several centers that would receive funding, Green said, therefore Tipton isn’t lobbying specifically for a project in his district.
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