2 Localities Hope Decision Unties Funds
By Stephen Barr
For more than 40 years, the citizens of Franklin County, Miss., just two hours northwest of New Orleans, have dreamed of building a recreational lake that would pull in vacationers wanting to water ski, canoe and fish.
In eastern Montana, the citizens of Ekalaka have held onto a similar dream for 50 years. Tourists from the Black Hills of South Dakota would come their way if they could just pave 47 miles of Route 323, a gravel road.
Both communities, though, need federal money to achieve those dreams, and President Clinton set them back last year when he used his line-item veto power to pare congressional spending bills. The Mississippi and Montana communities lost $1 million each in funding earmarked for economic development activities.
But yesterday the Supreme Court may have given a boost to the community projects when it struck down the line-item veto. Even though it is yet to be determined whether the communities will actually receive the funding, Milton Markuson, a Montana county commissioner who has pushed the road paving project, called the decision "really good news. I never did think that line-item veto was a good thing, anyway."
Mary Lou Webb, coordinator for the local citizens committee championing the Mississippi lake project, said Clinton's veto "slowed the lake down a little, but it didn't kill it. That was the main thing. I just went back to praying hard."
The court decision also may help Gus Blase, 81, of Paul, Idaho, the owner of Sun Valley Potatoes. Clinton vetoed a benefit aimed at helping farm cooperatives buy crop-processing facilities by changing tax laws to make such sales more attractive to sellers and less costly to buyers. Blase, who is negotiating the sale of his plant to a farmer co-op, may obtain a capital gains tax benefit now.
He said he is waiting to hear from his tax advisers. "It could do us some good, but I don't know," Blase said. "It would be welcome."
Administration officials declined to comment on the effect of the court ruling, suggesting there was considerable uncertainty about what would happen next. Clinton's vetoes saved taxpayers an estimated $869 million and those savings were placed in reserve, pending the court ruling.
Justice Department and Office of Management and Budget lawyers yesterday met to discuss whether the canceled spending items go into effect, whether new court actions must be taken or whether Congress must pass them again.
Although Clinton used his new, historic power to veto 82 legislative items, Congress overrode him on 38 of them and the Justice Department withdrew one, leaving 43 of Clinton's actions unchallenged until yesterday.
Clinton described many of the congressional projects he vetoed as wasteful or unnecessary projects traditionally labeled as "pork." Clinton zeroed out a range of projects, such as $10 million for an Air Force space plane and $190,000 for research projects at an Ohio university.
In the Mississippi case, the White House objected to spending money on planning and designs for a recreational lake, complete with cabins and a nature center, saying the proposal was outside the traditional duties of the Forest Service. Local officials countered that the proposed lake, estimated to cost $37 million, will require a $20 million investment by a private corporation that wins the 30-year concessionaire's lease.
Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), who has backed the project, said the White House applied the line-item veto inconsistently in the lake case, striking money for the lake in one spending bill but allowing spending to continue in another. "This project is clearly justified," Cochran said, given previous economic analysis studies and Forest Service support.
As for the Montana road project, Markuson said the state agreed to finance part of the improvement five years ago. But efforts to get federal funding through highway bills have never succeeded, he said. Last year, the community won congressional approval to start a highway planning process through a Housing and Urban Development Department block grant to the Carter County Chamber of Commerce, but Clinton stopped it with the line-item veto.
"It would mean a lot to the people," Markuson said. "If this was paved, we'd get a lot of tourism."
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