The bill's introduction caught a congressman and a Mahoning County commissioner by surprise.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Congress could add Mahoning, Trumbull and Ashtabula counties to the Appalachian Regional Commission, making them eligible for millions of federal dollars, as early as this spring, according to U.S. Rep. Steven C. LaTourette.
LaTourette, of Madison, who represents seven northern townships in Trumbull County and all of Ashtabula, is sponsoring the legislation that is being referred to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's public buildings, economic development and emergency management subcommittee, which he chairs.
"We'll hold a hearing on it and if we can get consensus in the House, we can move it rather quickly," LaTourette said. "It could be done by the spring or if it doesn't move that quickly, it could take until the fall to get it done."
The commission includes 410 counties in 13 states, including 29 counties in Ohio. Columbiana County in Ohio, and Mercer and Lawrence counties in Pennsylvania are members. The commission was designed to help distressed communities in the Appalachian region.
Congress appropriates funds to counties in the commission annually for highway projects and community and human development programs, which seek to create sustained local economic growth.
The commission distributed $66.4 million last year for 500 projects, including about $4.4 million in Ohio. President Bush wants to cut the commission's federal allocation in half for this year.
Even if that happens, LaTourette said there is about $450 million set aside by Congress for transportation projects in Appalachia Commission counties this year.
"Why shouldn't our folks get a share?" he said.
LaTourette said he has discussed the proposal with U.S. Sen. George Voinovich, an Ohio Republican. He plans to talk about it soon with U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, and Ted Strickland of Lisbon, D-6th, who represent all of Mahoning County and most of Trumbull.
Strickland and Mahoning County Commissioner Ed Reese said they were surprised by LaTourette's decision to introduce the legislation without talking to leaders in either Mahoning or Trumbull.
"Quite frankly, I think it's a little presumptuous to make a decision about counties without talking to the leaders of those counties," Strickland said. "I am puzzled by this."
Reese said officials with Strickland's and Ryan's offices told him they are planning to bring an Appalachian Commission official to the area to discuss the program.
"There might be a good reason why he did this, but we don't know anything about this proposal," Reese said of LaTourette. "The people who represent our county don't know anything about it."
LaTourette said the idea is not a secret; he first disclosed it to The Vindicator about a month ago.
LaTourette wanted to introduce the bill and then hold discussions with officials in the three counties to determine their support.
"I try not to let any moss grow under my feet," he said. "You get the bill in and if someone has a negative reaction, tell me about it. ... It would puzzle me why someone wouldn't want to have the opportunity to get additional millions of dollars for their community."