People of a certain age will remember the Sears Wish Book, a giant catalogue of the retailer's most wanted items that was published annually and, strategically, only a few months before Christmas.
The wish book grew to 834 pages in 1992 before being greatly downsized and then disappearing — almost for good — after 2011.
The wish book of the Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives is out this week in the form of what is now collectively called Community Investment Funding. Ten years ago, when Republicans took over the House, they got rid of what were then called "earmarks," spending measures tucked into bills that would benefit individual members' districts and were being abused by both parties.
Today's spending has both a more adult name and new rules. The federal money that will pay for all projects granted through Community Investment Funding will be 1% of the discretionary spending in the fiscal 2022 budget.
The requests must be for municipal or nonprofit projects that have community support, must come with an explanation by the requesting House member about why the project is appropriate and must come with an assurance that the House member or their family has no ties to the project.
Each member can make up to 10 requests, though none are guaranteed to be funded.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Chattanooga, largely an opponent of earmarks during his first campaign for the House in 2010, is realistic about the lay of the land in Washington, D.C., where Democrats hold the presidency and both — though barely — houses of Congress. He said if Republicans don't make requests, all the funding will go to Democratic districts. And he said the 1% of discretionary spending is 1% President Joe Biden won't get to allot.
So Tennessee's 3rd District congressman has made four asks — $44 million for a water treatment plant for the city of Oak Ridge, $2.5 million for the Kennedy Outpatient Center at the Children's Hospital at Erlanger and $1.6 million for smart technology infrastructure expansion for the city of Chattanooga along the Martin Luther King Corridor. The fourth ask, in advance of separate House Transportation and Infrastructure surface transportation reauthorization legislation, is $2.5 million for the city of Chattanooga for its Third and Fourth Street corridor changes.
Six of the state's nine House members, including four Republicans, made requests. Three Republicans, Scott DesJarlais, Mark Green and David Kustoff, did not. Across the line in Northwest Georgia, Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene also chose not to participate.
Fleischmann is the only Tennessee member of the House Appropriations Committee, and it will be that committee's staff and members who select the final projects for funding.
He said the funds request for the Oak Ridge water treatment plan is vital because it serves not only the city of 30,000 people but also federal installations like the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Y-12 National Security Complex. The existing water system, built by the federal government when the city was part of the Manhattan Project during World War II, was transferred by the U.S. Department of Energy to the city in 2000 and is now at capacity and beyond its useful life.
The Erlanger project, if funded, would support an 11,000-square-foot build-out from the 3-year-old center for a pediatric MRI, three procedure rooms and a post-anesthesia care unit. More than 40% of patients, according to Fleischmann's requests, are on Medicaid, covered by the federal/state-funded Children's Health Insurance Program or uninsured.
Chattanooga already has been using EPB broadband connections to study everything from traffic congestion to energy consumption to identify ways to improve transportation and reduce energy demand. Such smart technology and the city's collaborative approach to its use also encourage entrepreneurship and research, the city's Smart City director told the Times Free Press in December. The request, if funded, would expand that footprint.
The request for Third and Fourth Street corridor changes is part of a long-term project that began in 2015 under former Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke.
A city web page describes the project as an attempt to "transform" the corridor into "an aesthetically pleasing, safe, and accessible" area that "extends the downtown grid" to existing neighborhoods, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Chattanooga School for the Arts & Sciences, and Siskin and Erlanger hospitals; encourages economic development; and provides a connection to other community assets.
Steve Howell, Fleischmann's district director, said the request will provide for access for pedestrians, bikes and other safety features for accessing public transportation along the corridor.
Fleischmann's request for Oak Ridge was by far the largest from any Tennessee House member. Other asks ranged down to one by U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Knoxville, for $100,000 to resurface athletic courts for the Boys & Girls Club of Claiborne County.
No date has been designated for when the appropriations will be revealed, but it will be worth watching how bipartisan the funding is. Stay tuned.