PINELLAS COUNTY – The $388 billion appropriations bill passed by Congress on Nov. 20 is considered austere by Washington standards, but that didn’t stop Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young from bringing $180 million of federally funded projects to the Tampa Bay area.
The projects include $34 million for the Belleair Beach Causeway replacement, $10 million for beach renourishment on Sand Key, $4 million for widening the Roosevelt-Ulmerton corridor, $3 million for curb and sidewalk improvements in Clearwater, and $3 million for a Pinellas County traffic monitoring program. But this may be the last year the Largo Republican can hand out such largess.
Because of a Republican rule that limits committee chairmanships to six years, Young must step down from the chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, a post he has held since 1998. But he will remain on that committee as its vice chairman.
Critics call Young’s torrent of federal dollars for the Tampa Bay area political pork. But Young says every project benefits some, if not all, of his constituents.
“I guess (whether it’s pork) depends on who’s naming the activity,” Young said in a telephone interview Monday. “These are all important projects.”
The project the longtime congressman is most proud of is bringing a new veterans’ hospital to Bay Pines in the 1970s.
“People said it would never happen,” Young said.
But he has a harder time deciding which of the projects he championed as head of the Appropriations Committee was his favorite.
“U.S. 19 was a major issue that required substantial money,” he said.
In other transportation improvements, he mentioned the Treasure Island Bridge, the Belleair Causeway and the Roosevelt Connector that will provide “a straight shot across the county.”
Young spoke of cleaning up Tampa and Boca Ciega bays with the help of such organizations as Tampa Bay Watch.
One of the new appropriations was $4 million to finish a huge reservoir in southern Hillsborough County. It is expected to help alleviate Pinellas County's perpetual shortage of potable water, Young said.
Young is proud of the two supplemental appropriations he got for hurricane relief this year.
“That was important not only in the bay area but for the entire state,” he said.
But it is when he speaks of homeland security that Young’s voice takes on an excited edge.
“Before 9/11, from where I work, I could see a threat developing,” he said.
Months before the first airliner slammed into the World Trade Center, Young established a bioterrorism defense program at the University of South Florida, in partnership with St. Petersburg College.
Three days after the 9/11 attacks, Young ramrodded an emergency appropriations bill that provided funds to repair the damage and prevent future attacks.
His critics may call it pork, but Young calls it just doing his job.