A recent news article concerning wastewater funding has really left me in a not-so-warm-and-fuzzy state of mind. Not that any article on the topic is a real feel-good piece, mind you – it’s just that I’m really left wondering what our Congresswoman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), is thinking.

Here are the background details of the story that has left me puzzled. Remember back to the waning days of the Bush administration, when the economy faced all-but-certain meltdown? The President and Congress got together and passed a mega-billion-dollar “bailout bill” that used our taxpayer dollars to shore up financial institutions and preserve bonus payments to Wall Street executives. As totally distasteful as it was, we were told that it had to be done to avert global economic collapse.

In the early days of the new Obama administration, the economy – while perhaps not in danger of total disintegration – remained in a very feeble state. To help grow the economy, the President and Congress got together and passed a mega-billion-dollar “stimulus bill” that used our taxpayer dollars to keep automakers out of bankruptcy court and provide funds to shovel-ready infrastructure projects and create jobs. Once again, we were told that it had to be done to keep the recession from worsening.

The main difference between the “bailout bill” and the “stimulus bill” is that the latter actually has provided funds for shovel-ready wastewater and stormwater infrastructure projects in the Florida Keys. The City of Marathon, the Key Largo Sewer District, and the City of Key West all have benefitted directly from the $24.5 million in stimulus funds already dedicated to these projects (technically, there is a $1.5 million portion of these funds unspent that Key West will bill for by July 1). The really good news is that there is another $45 million in leftover stimulus funds that the Keys already qualify for and could be put to use right now this year.

That also means that local residents and businesses will see a reduction in their sewer bills as a direct result of federal funding we all agreed was necessary for these projects.
Well, one of us doesn’t agree any more. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) has decided to not join our U.S. Senators Bill Nelson and George LeMieux in requesting that additional $45 million for the Keys. You read that correctly: our Congresswoman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), will not support the request for the additional $45 million to be spent in her district on infrastructure projects we most certainly need.

What is she thinking?

In an e-mail to Free Press reporter Robert Silk, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) took credit for securing $35 million in federal funds for Keys wastewater projects. She balked at going after more funds, however, using as an excuse the $1.5 million in “unspent” funds, and urging Keys municipalities to spend it all before requesting more money.

That argument really doesn’t hold water (treated or otherwise). Marathon has already used up all its funding and is still in the middle of its multi-million dollar project. Key Largo billed the Army Corps $2 million more than it received in case other stimulus funding became available. Key West will spend the existing allocation and is currently in the middle of a multi-million dollar stormwater and wastewater upgrade. If it gets to the Keys, thanks to our Senators (and no thanks to Ileana), the additional $45 million will be spent.

Some suggest that partisan politics is behind what Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) is thinking. Like all House Republicans, Ileana toed the party line and voted against the stimulus bill (she voted for the bank bailout bill). It’s a shame, however, if Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) is abandoning the constituents in her own district just to make a political point. Regardless of the source of those federal funds, people in the Keys need that additional $45 million in stimulus money, at least as much as the banks and insurance companies needed the federal bailout she supported.

Sometimes – hell, all of the time – people need to come before party in this country. Both of our Senators got that one right. As a former elected official, I worked with Ileana on local issues and have always considered her a friend of the Keys. She’s the only member of Congress I have known personally, and I get no pleasure out of writing this column. After all is said and done, it would have been great to have had Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) join with our Senators in requesting these funds. In the end, maybe we don’t need her this time.



Leave a Reply