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The U.S. Capitol is seen in Washington, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. President Joe Biden on Tuesday night will stand before a joint session of Congress for the first time since voters in the midtem elections handed control of the House to Republicans. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

Colorado’s two U.S. senators are seeking nearly $1.5 billion for special projects in the state through the earmark process, now known as “congressional directed spending requests.”

Sen. John Hickenlooper is seeking $831 million for 424 projects, while Sen. Michael Bennet is seeking $650 million for 381 projects.

That dwarfs the $188 million in total earmarks requested by six of Colorado’s eight U.S. House members, who request only projects in their districts, unlike senators who make requests for the entire state. In some instances, Hickenlooper and Bennet and House members are requesting funding for the same projects. 

The requests must make it through a lengthy process before they are added to the final federal fiscal year 2024 budget, which will be passed sometime later this year. And many of the projects won’t be funded.

Overall, 66 senators are seeking $53.3 billion for projects, while 369 House members are seeking $19.4 billion. 

Last year, Colorado’s congressional delegation scored $178 million in earmarks for projects in the state. All were proposed by Democrats, with the three Republicans objecting to the special project requests. Hickenlooper and Bennet had requested $1.4 billion, while House members had requested nearly $200 million.

Boebert is only Republican making requests

The GOP opposition to earmarks has changed this year.

Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert of Garfield County joined the five Democrats in Colorado’s House delegation in requesting earmarks. She was opposed to the earmark process last year, but supports it now after the GOP majority in the House instituted new rules about what the money can be requested for. 

“As a result of our historic changes, I am now able to fight for important infrastructure projects for the 3rd District of Colorado,” she wrote in an opinion piece

In a competing opinion piece, Hickenlooper pushed back on her claim that earmarks were somehow previously corrupt, citing numerous projects he sponsored in the 3rd Congressional District over the past two years.

Boebert’s new stance on earmarks comes after she narrowly survived a challenge by former Aspen City Councilman Adam Frisch in November, winning by 546 votes. She faces a likely rematch against him in 2024. 

In the past, she’s voted against funding such projects, though she’s also tried to take credit for them.

The two other Republicans in the delegation — Reps. Ken Buck of Windsor and Doug Lamborn of Colorado Springs — aren’t requesting earmarks because they say they are ideologically opposed to the spending. Before last year, earmarks had been abandoned for nearly a decade because of how scandals engulfed the process.

The requests come primarily from local governments, state governments and nonprofit organizations. Lawmakers must sign letters certifying that they and their families have no financial interests in the sponsored projects.

That means organizations in Buck’s 4th Congressional District and Lamborn’s 5th District must rely on Colorado’s two Democratic senators to sponsor their projects.

Rep. Yadira Caraveo, D-Thornton, leads all Colorado House members in requests with $39 million, followed by Boebert at $34 million. Caraveo won a narrow victory in Colorado’s new 8th Congressional District centered in Adams and Weld counties last year, and is being targeted by Republicans in 2024.

The state’s other newest House member, U.S. Rep. Brittany Pettersen, was third on the list, also seeking about $34 million. 

“I’ve been working alongside advocates, local leaders, and the people that know Colorado’s 7th Congressional District best to design and advocate for 15 projects that would improve quality of life for people from Jefferson County and Broomfield all the way out to Chaffee and Custer counties,” Pettersen said in a statement. “They range from expanding access to affordable housing options, improving town centers and health care facilities, increasing clean and safe drinking water, and beyond.”

A look at the lists

The Colorado requests this year range from $10,000 proposed by Bennet to repair the Red Rooster Saloon and Visitor Center in Twin Lakes, which is between Aspen and Leadville, to up to $37 million proposed by Hickenlooper to create a multimodal transportation corridor near four schools in Fruita.

Most of last year’s projects were sponsored by more than one Democratic member of the Colorado congressional delegation.The largest Colorado project funded in the 2023 budget was just over $6 million for National Jewish Hospital, sponsored by Bennet. 

This year, Hickenlooper has proposed 21 projects of $6 million or more, while Bennet has proposed seven.

Pettersen, D-Lakewood, tops the list of individual projects proposed by House members with a $10 million request for a flood reduction project in Golden. Bennet and Hickenlooper are also each requesting funding for the same project. Bennet’s project description says the Bachman Farms Park project will result in “six commercial properties, 40 mobile home residences and 81 low-income households” being removed from the floodplain.

The federal money can provide a welcome boost to local governments and nonprofits looking to improve infrastructure or boost services. The projects also give politicians tangible results to show off in their reelection campaigns. 

Here’s a look at the 83 projects requested by Colorado’s House members:

And here are the 805 projects requested by Colorado’s two senators:

Special to The Colorado Sun
Twitter: @fishnette