Idaho’s Rep. Simpson made 15 funding requests for state projects — then voted against them
U.S. House passed appropriations bill on party-line vote with funding for 13 Idaho infrastructure projects
Thirteen community projects across eastern and southern Idaho could receive funding under a U.S. House of Representatives appropriations bill that passed the House on July 20, despite both of Idaho’s representatives voting against it.
U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, made requests for funding for 15 Idaho community projects from his 2nd Congressional District to be included in the bill, and 13 of them made the cut. In a statement, Simpson said he was pleased to see the important projects for Idaho were included, but the spending level of the overall package far exceeded what he could support.
“I remain committed to prioritizing Idaho’s needs, reducing federal spending and putting our economy on a sustainable, healthy path for the future,” Simpson’s statement said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues to craft a more responsible spending package that can gain bipartisan support as this bill moves forward to conference.”
The $90.9 billion bill, which provides funding for the Department of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and related agencies, passed the House on a party-line vote of 220-207 and is now under consideration in the U.S. Senate’s Appropriations Committee. It’s unclear if it has the votes to pass the Senate.
Rep. Russ Fulcher, R-Idaho, did not make any funding requests for the bill. Daniel Tellez, spokesperson for Fulcher’s office, said by email it is consistent with his position on funding requests, which are also called earmarks.
In statements issued in March 2021, Fulcher, who represents Idaho’s 1st Congressional District in western and northern Idaho, said he sent a letter with 17 other Republican colleagues addressed to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, making a pledge against requesting earmarked funding.
“At any time — but particularly when we are staring at over $27 trillion in total national debt — it is plain wrong to suggest adding new ways to spend taxpayer dollars on local pet-projects for certain members or lobbyists,” Fulcher said in a statement.
Since that letter was released, the U.S. national debt has risen to more than $30 trillion.
The U.S. Congress placed a moratorium on earmarks in 2011 in response to allegations of corruption and abuse related to the practice. Earmarks returned in 2021 with new rules — in addition to making member requests public and requiring certification that neither the member nor their immediate family members have any financial interest in a particular earmark, the list of community project funding requests must be made public 24 hours before the full committee meets to mark up the bill.
According to Congressional records, 332 of 435 House representatives requested community project funding, 106 of whom are Republicans, including Simpson. Ultimately, no Republican voted in favor of the bill on the House floor.
What Idaho projects were approved?
According to Simpson’s reports, the projects he requested that were approved include:
Rock Creek Conservation and Water Quality Enhancement Project
- Requested: $15 million
- Approved: $4 million
- Funding to enhance water quality and fish and wildlife habitat, urban outdoor recreational opportunities, and provide flood control benefits in the lower Rock Creek Watershed of Twin Falls County. The project also aims to provide sediment removal and total phosphorus reductions from agricultural runoff, improving water quality.
Jerome Education and Training Center
- Requested: $3.3 million
- Approved: $3.3 million
- Funding to construct a new 20,000-square-foot education and training facility for dairy, food and meat processing industries to support regional needs for the College of Southern Idaho in downtown Jerome. The college also plans to support health care training for high school students and CNA and medical assisting trades in support of regional needs, and for the center to serve as a community hub for Hispanic residents and students.
McCammon Fire Station
- Requested: $813,750
- Approved: $813,750
- Funding to construct a new fire station in eastern Idaho’s McCammon, where the fire station was originally built to serve as a maintenance shed and currently has no running water and no insulation. Cramped quarters have limited the ability to upsize equipment and effectively deploy engines due to lack of maneuverability, city officials said. The new facility will allow for increased volunteerism and allow ambulance space.
Custer County Court Annex Building
- Requested: $600,000
- Approved: $600,000
- Funding for a new court annex building in Challis. The current court building, built in 1957, is non-ADA compliant and has degraded after two major earthquakes in the region. The new building will include a courtroom, judge’s chambers, jury room, three court clerk offices, an elevator, bathrooms and two evidence vaults.
Idaho Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment
- Requested: $7.84 million
- Approved: $1 million
- Funding to support collaboration between the University of Idaho and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service in south central Idaho’s Kimberly to protect the sustainability of agriculture, identify ways to reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses, improve the health of soil and quality of water and increase the efficiency of irrigation. Funding will be prioritized for facilities and equipment that will help determine the extent of the impact of dairy production on the environment.
Little Wood River
- Requested: $2.6 million
- Approved: $2.6 million
- This project will replace the walls of the channel, which was constructed in the 1930s, that flows through the city of Gooding in south central Idaho. Many sections of the wall have failed, leading to an increase in localized flood risk and threats to adjacent public infrastructure and private property. It is also leading to public road damage along the corridor from subsurface erosion.Gooding Public Works Director Larry Bybee said in a statement that the city is grateful to Simpson for his help approving the funding.“The project has been delayed for decades due to escalating costs, and the failing wall is now undermining roadways and poses a greater risk of flooding every year. Thank you, Congressman Simpson, from the citizens of Gooding,” Bybee said.
City of Grace Wastewater Collection and Treatment Systems Improvement Project
- Requested: $2.65 million
- Approved: $2.65 million
- Funding to make electrical and equipment improvements to the eastern Idaho city’s wastewater collection and treatment systems. Grace Mayor Jackie Barthlome said in a statement the plant has not been updated since 1985, and with a small population of about 950 people, city management wants to keep costs low for residents.“With the rate of inflation and unforeseen equipment reaching its lifetime and needing to be replaced, any support is greatly appreciated,” Barthlome said.
City of Roberts Clean Water Project
- Requested: $2 million
- Approved: $2 million
- Funding for updates to the eastern Idaho city’s failing sewer lines that were installed in 1969. Some of the sewer lines are causing raw sewage to back up into residents’ homes and creating a critical public health concern. The improvements will help ensure that sewage is not leaking into the groundwater and will prevent the backups that are occurring in residents’ homes.
City of Ammon First Street Reconstruction
- Requested: $5.83 million
- Approved: $5.83 million
- Funding for reconstruction of First Street, which is a principal arterial through the city of Ammon in Bonneville County. The section that will be reconstructed is in failing condition and unsafe, according to city officials. The reconstruction will widen the road to five lanes, with two lanes in each direction and a center two-way turn lane. A curb, gutter, and sidewalk will be added along the entire section. Sand Creek bridge will be widened to five lanes and will include sidewalks.
Center Street Railroad Bridge Underpass
- Requested: $5.7 million
- Approved: $5.7 million
- Funding to repair and replace sections of the bridge underpass in Pocatello. The existing roadway and pedestrian lighting will be upgraded, and the existing stormwater system will be modified or replaced to handle storm events, along with a pedestrian bridge. The Center Street underpass is an essential element of Pocatello’s transportation system and one of three principal arterial streets that cross the railroad connecting the downtown area to the rest of Pocatello.
Downtown Boise YMCA Catalytic Redevelopment Project
- Requested: $10 million
- Approved: $4 million
Funding for the redevelopment of two city blocks in Boise that will bring together the YMCA, its partners in health care, education, and the nonprofit and government sectors, and provide comprehensive solutions for community challenges in one of the nation’s fastest growing cities. This project aims to connect community members to local businesses, hospitals, social, educational and governmental services.
“As our state continues to grow, we need to ensure Idaho is the place where we all can have the best possible opportunity to thrive and where our children and grandchildren choose to stay,” Gov. Brad Little said in a statement. “This YMCA redevelopment will strengthen families and the foundation of the Treasure Valley community for generations to come.”
Idaho Workforce and Public Safety Training Facility Improvements
- Requested: $750,000
- Approved: $750,000
Funding to develop indoor/outdoor labs and learning stations in Ada County that will be used to educate water and wastewater operators across Idaho, including its most rural communities. The funding would specifically be used to provide site improvements, including the construction of curbs and a parking lot, loading dock and storage facilities, to provide safer access to these education facilities. Additional resources will be designated to purchase and install the equipment necessary for indoor/outdoor labs to conduct real-world hands-on experience and training.
“This funding will aid current employees to gain more credentials while they continue working, and it will expand the potential hiring pool into Idaho’s rural communities,” Wendi Secrist, executive director of the Idaho Workforce Development Council, said in a statement. “This funding will strengthen local businesses, increase local wages, and build greater economic stability throughout the state as water and wastewater are critical to economic development efforts.”
Healing Idaho Community Development Project
- Requested: $2.4 million
- Approved: $2.4 million
- Funding to build a medically designed, adaptive and accessible camp to serve nonprofits across the state called Hidden Paradise on a 172-acre parcel in Fairfield in Camas County that was purchased by Camp Rainbow Gold in 2019. The property will also be available when camps are not in session to host community events. The project will provide services to children, families and adults from across Idaho, many of whom have been marginalized because of medical conditions, treatment or disabilities and have insufficient access to outdoor recreation activities. The funding will be used to install a Large Soil Absorption System. Funds would be used for new water lines, wells, repairs and much-needed power upgrades to create a safer environment for campers.
Two projects of the 15 were not part of the overall funding package. The first was a $7.08 funding request for rehabilitation of Mackay Dam, a 100-year-old structure that is aging and degraded to the point of critical condition. The second project was a $1.54 million funding request for an emergency services infrastructure project with a helipad and four-unit ambulance bay attached to the new Family Health Services Community Health Center in Shoshone. It’s unclear why those two projects were not approved.