July 26, 2005

Lawmakers back public funds for M.L. King memorial

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Construction of a memorial honoring
slain U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. would get
a boost under legislation approved on Tuesday by congressional
negotiators to inject $10 million in public matching funds for
the project.

Under a deal crafted by negotiators from the Senate and
House of Representatives, the federal government would
contribute $10 million to help build the memorial in Washington
if a private foundation raises an additional $10 million in the
next two years.

"It puts the (Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial
Project) Foundation in a great position in terms of our effort
to continue to raise much-needed dollars for building and
maintaining the project," said Jarvis Stewart, a consultant to
the foundation.

Backers of the King tribute, which would be constructed on
a high-profile plot near memorials honoring presidents Thomas
Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, have hoped
to break ground in the fall of 2006.

But with only $38.5 million raised for the $100 million
project, the memorial's future has been uncertain.

House Republicans had objected to an outright $10 million
appropriation approved last month by the U.S. Senate, arguing
it would open the door to public funding for memorials that are
intended to be built with private contributions.

After each side refused to give in, negotiators reached a
deal in private meetings and attached the language to a bill
that would fund public lands and environmental programs in the
fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

The full House and Senate are expected to approve the
legislation before starting a monthlong August recess.