- Associated Press - Thursday, June 12, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas Republican Senate hopeful Tom Cotton on Thursday defended his vote to abolish a federal agency formed to assist the Mississippi River Delta, telling leaders from the region that taxpayers aren’t getting a good return from the spending.

The freshman congressman said he believes Arkansans aren’t getting enough in exchange for the federal money that goes toward regional commissions such as the Delta Regional Authority. Cotton voted for a budget proposal that would have eliminated the authority and other regional commissions.

“I strongly support the projects that organizations like the DRA funds, but I think Arkansans can get a little bit better return on their tax dollars when you look at the amount of money we’re spending on regional commissions all across the country,” Cotton said as he addressed members of the Delta Grassroots Caucus via Skype as they opened their two-day conference in downtown Little Rock.

Cotton, who is challenging Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, voted for the Republican Study Committee Budget, which would have eliminated the DRA as well as the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Denali Regional Commission. Supporters of the budget proposal say the commissions’ work would be better carried by state and local governments.

Cotton’s campaign later said eliminating the three commissions would save $108 million.

Pryor earlier Thursday criticized Cotton over the vote, saying the DRA has been a boost for the struggling region. Pryor was scheduled to speak to the caucus Friday morning.

“Maybe Congressman Cotton thinks he knows better than our Delta families or maybe he isn’t listening, either way his irresponsible vote to eliminate a crucial economic lifeline for Arkansas’ Delta region says a lot about his priorities,” Pryor said in a statement released by his campaign.

The Delta Regional Authority was set up in 2000 to help 252 counties and parishes in Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee.

Cotton also told the group he supports federal investment for highways, but said how such projects are funded should be re-evaluated. Cotton questioned the need for federal money for projects such as highway beautification and local light rail.

“I don’t think Arkansas taxpayers benefit from paying for a big city subway or for paying for flowers at the sides of highways,” Cotton said.

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Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo


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