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Relief Bill Included ‘Emergency’ Garage Funds For Cleveland

To flood-stricken citizens, the emergency disaster-relief bill meant billions of dollars in potential aid. To Republicans, it meant a chance to settle scores.

But for lawmakers who mostly remain nameless, it also offered the opportunity to collect millions of dollars for dire emergencies such as a $12.3 million garage for a Veterans Affairs medical center in Cleveland, a study on why the cost of higher education continues to rise and the repair of a not-so-dilapidated theater in Ashland, Ky.

Nearly $1 billion of the $8.6 billion disaster-relief bill was for odds and ends, much of it pork.

The bill, buffeted by denunciations of government shutdowns and tongue lashings over census counts, included inconspicuous money for small and large pet projects. Even with the veto, the items are likely to pop up again in any retooled version of the measure.

A total of $5 million was to have been used to study “water allocation” in Alabama, Florida and Georgia. In addition, $15 million was to have been spent on research on environmental factors affecting breast cancer, and $650,000 was to have gone to the National Commission on the Cost of Higher Education.

A number of “systems” were to have received windfalls, including $5 million for a legislative information system in the office of the secretary of the Senate and $16 million to help set up an automated system for the U.S. Customs Service.

In Ashland, the Paramount Arts Center, a 66-year-old former movie theater that is the city’s performing arts center, is in line for a $500,000 bonus originally set for a garage. The money, a sign of Sen. Mitch McConnell’s devotion to Kentucky, would help refurbish the theater.

Tyson Compton, the marketing director of the center, said the theater needs “constant upgrade and renovation.”

When asked about the theater’s condition, Compton said: “You couldn’t say it’s in disrepair, no. But we have had certain areas like a bad roof leak.”

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