Gregg built legacy of earmarks

Last modified: 11/28/2010 12:00:00 AM
You won't likely see Sen. Judd Gregg's name on an election ballot again. But you can still drive over the Judd Gregg Bridge, study the weather at the Judd Gregg Meteorology Institute, or take a college class in Gregg Hall.

As he retires after nearly two decades in the U.S. Senate, Gregg's name lives on in brick and concrete. But those structures represent just a fraction of the money Gregg has directed to New Hampshire through the earmark process, in which lawmakers target federal money to specific projects. Even as earmarks have become a byword for wasteful spending in recent months, Gregg's record stands as an example of how a savvy navigator of the system can steer dollars to home-state causes, building a legacy in the process.

"There is an element of skill to earmarking, and knowing how the process works gives you a better sense of how to use it to the advantage of your state," said Dean Spiliotes, a political scientist at Southern New Hampshire University. "Gregg has been able to parlay the collegiality aspect of being a senator to his advantage in this area."

Through earmarks, Gregg has helped preserve hundreds of thousands of acres of forest across New Hampshire. He's directed hundreds of millions of dollars to the state's colleges, public and private. He's secured lucrative defense contracts for Granite State manufacturers and researchers. And many institutions - including the New Hampshire Institute for Politics - owe their existence to Gregg's earmarks.

The trail of dollars from Gregg's earmarks winds through nearly every corner and industry in the state: Nashua high-tech companies, Conway's sewer system, performing arts centers in Portsmouth and the North Country, forests in the Monadnock Region, mussel colonies along the Seacoast, the Dover Housing Authority. In the past three years alone, Gregg has helped secure - either alone or by teaming with other members of Congress - $278 million in earmarks. Among the big-ticket items for which Gregg has secured money over the years:

• $730 million for assorted projects at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

• $230 million to construct a federal prison in Berlin.

• $63 million for a coastal research center at the University of New Hampshire.

• $56 million to protect wetlands around the Great Bay.

• $34 million for a program to modernize electronic devices in police cruisers.

• $34 million for an atmosphere and climate change research program at UNH.

• $16 million for the protection of Lake Umbagog.

• $15 million for land acquisition in the White Mountain National Forest.

• $14 million for a research center on crimes against children at UNH.

• $12 million for an anti-gang efforts in the state.

• $5 million for the Weather Discovery Center at Mount Washington.

Gregg is hardly the most profligate earmarker in Congress. Last year, he was ranked 56th out of 100 senators in earmark spending; a year earlier he was ranked 71st. But in a small state like New Hampshire, the money secured by Gregg goes far.

In Littleton, for instance, which celebrated Judd Gregg Day last May, Gregg's earmarks helped pay for the police station and town offices, a bridge, an industrial park, the restoration of the Littleton Opera House, and a major reconstruction of Main Street, including new sidewalks and sewers.

"Thank God for Judd Gregg," said Executive Councilor Ray Burton, who represents much of the state's northern reaches. "In almost every valley in the North Country, he was part of something to pass for the greater good. Judd Gregg was willing to do some good old-fashioned horse trading with his fellow senators, and in these rural areas, it's often the only way you can get something done."

 Difference of opinion

Many of the organizations that teamed with him to draw federal dollars to New Hampshire are uncertain what his departure will mean for state spending. Republican Kelly Ayotte, the Republican elected to succeed Gregg, wants to ban all earmarks in the next federal budget. Such a stance - informed by small-government movements such as the Tea Party - illuminates the generational gap between Gregg and the new class of GOP reformers.

"Gregg comes from a time when the Senate was much more collegial and people recognized their mutual interest in letting this process work," Spiliotes said. "Now, there's a stridency about this that you didn't hear before."

In Washington, Gregg is among the most consistent critics of deficits and wasteful spending. But when it comes to earmarks, Gregg does not shy away from his record. In a ceremony at the Mount Washington Observatory in September, Gregg explained his support for the system, describing it as a way for small states to get their share of federal money.

"If you leave it to the bureaucrats in Washington to decide how to spend it, a lot of things will be missed that are important to states, especially smaller states," Gregg said, according to a report in the Conway Daily Sun. "I think the anti-earmark movement is going to undermine the ability of states like New Hampshire to compete for funds."

And one aspect of Gregg's earmarking earned him wide criticism last year, shortly after he withdrew his name for consideration as President Obama's pick for Commerce Department secretary. The Associated Press reported that Gregg had directed money to Pease Air Force Base at the same time that he and his brother engaged in real estate deals there. Gregg said he broke no laws or Senate rules and did not benefit personally from the earmarks.

Gregg's skill at securing money for New Hampshire can be attributed to several factors. He has occupied several influential chairs on Senate committees that control the budgets of agencies critical to the earmarking process. In particular, his seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee has given him particular sway in earmarking over the years and allowed him to target spending to specific state projects.

In addition, Gregg arrived in the Senate after spending years in state-level politics, including two terms as governor and a term on the Executive Council. Gregg had also served eight years in the House before winning election to the Senate. That time in the State House provided Gregg with a hands-on tutorial in the needs of dozens of New Hampshire communities, Burton said.

"He doesn't stay at home when he's back in the state," Burton said.

Gregg's longevity and committee seats have also helped him develop a flexibility when it comes to matching home-state interests with federal money. For instance, Gregg was instrumental in securing more than $9 million in federal funding to help establish the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College a decade ago. Gregg arranged those grants through the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a federal agency dedicated to scientific, not political, research.

 Supporting research

Few New Hampshire institutions have benefited from Gregg's earmarks more than the University of New Hampshire. Jan Nisbet, UNH's senior vice provost for research, estimated that Gregg helped secure about $400 million for UNH-based programs over the years.

Gregg has steered most of his earmark spending to two research areas at the university: marine and environmental sciences and justice programs. The money has been used to build new infrastructure - such as a coastal marine laboratory and a research center devoted to coastal environmental technology - and establish new research institutes.

For instance, with help from Gregg's earmarks, the university has developed one of the world's most sophisticated ocean-mapping programs. He helped establish the university's Stormwater Center, which studies ways to protect water quality through stormwater management. And he's secured money for an environmental technology building on campus, now known as Gregg Hall.

"With his help, we have really evolved over the past 10 years and are positioned to take a leadership role in the region," Nisbet said.

Gregg has also devoted much earmark spending to land conservation, an effort that by his office's count has resulted in the preservation of more than 300,000 acres, from a 23-acre marsh in Rye to 172,000 acres at the Connecticut Headwaters in Pittsburg.

Rodger Krussman, New Hampshire state director of the Trust for Public Land, which has partnered with Gregg on many of those efforts, said he suspects the senator's interest in conservation was based in practical concerns.

"My sense is that he's driven to protect these resources because they protect a way of life in New Hampshire," Krussman said. "They allow for the economy in New Hampshire to continue to be a forest-based, recreation-based economy and allow for the resources of the land to be utilized."

Gregg has also helped steer earmark spending to more humble projects. For instance, the town of Goffstown last year secured $200,000 in federal grants to lay new sewer lines in a flood-prone neighborhood. Carl Quiram, the town's director of public works, said he met with members of Gregg's staff to review plans for water pipes and discuss where best to find the money to help pay for the project.

"I don't think it would have happened without that," Quiram said. "They worked hard with us, fitting us into a suitable program."

With Gregg's pending departure from the Senate, many of those who worked with him to funnel money back to the state are already building ties to his successor.

"Kelly Ayotte has already heard from me," said Burton, the North Country councilor. "I hope she comes into her own down there. It's called relationships and working with people to get things done for the greater good."

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