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The Maxine Waters $1-million funding flap

Having Rep. Waters' name on a Watts job program is costing it an appropriation. The answer is simple: Change the name.

July 08, 2009

Even Shakespeare got it wrong occasionally. There is something in a name. In this case, the name is the Maxine Waters Employment Preparation Center, and federal funding for the Watts job program would smell a lot sweeter if it had a different moniker.

Rep. Waters (D-Los Angeles) is framing the denial of $1 million in federal money to the program as evidence "that rich private entities can get funded and this poor school cannot." Yet the denial of Waters' request has nothing to do with disdain for the poor. Seeking to cut back on congressional earmarks, House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey (D-Wis.) came up with a sensible rule against funding projects named after a sitting lawmaker. Those are the projects most likely to be funded either for blatant self-promotion or because a legislator simply feels more of a natural affinity for his or her namesake.

Not that either motive is necessarily behind Waters' support for the job center, which provides training in nursing, auto repair and the like. It's hard to imagine a program more suited to the needs of the time. Yet Obey's rule should stand without exception. Whether the namesake is a freeway intersection or a clinic offering vital health services, projects shouldn't be named after a sitting public officials at any level -- federal, state or local. There is too much room for favoritism and deal-making, and too much temptation among community leaders to name programs after powerful benefactors who might then use their influence to pursue public funds for the programs that boost their names.

Fortunately for all involved, no one has to be a victim here. As Shakespeare also said, "The better part of valor is discretion," and in that vein, Waters should back off and ask the jobs center to drop her moniker for the time being. The program existed for more than 20 years before it was named for Waters in 1989, when she was a state legislator; it has spent more of its existence not being named after her than the reverse.

A name change would involve some cost and inconvenience, but the investment would qualify the jobs center for funding now and in the future, while preserving a congressional rule that sets reasonable limits on pork. When Waters retires from public office, the program can honor her permanently.

Like the Renaissance poet wrote, all's well that ends well.

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