Congress may hit Maryland with $200 million cut

March 03, 1995|By John B. O'Donnell | John B. O'Donnell,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Maryland stands to lose about $200 million in federal money this year if sweeping cuts proposed by House Republicans become law, initial analyses indicate.

The cuts would affect thousands of Marylanders this year, including 1,100 families who would get housing aid, 90,000 families who get help paying their home heating bills and nearly 10,000 poor teen-agers -- more than half in the Baltimore area -- who would have gotten summer jobs in a few months with the money House Republicans want to cut.

The House Appropriations Committee met yesterday for its midyear review of the fiscal 1995 budget, approved last year by the then-Democratic Congress. House Republicans, now in charge, have proposed cuts totaling $17.5 billion from the $1.5 trillion budget and the committee approved most of them.

The size of the cut -- and the specific programs targeted -- could change as the legislation moves through the House and then the Senate. Once both chambers pass the legislation, it goes to a conference committee to work out differences between the two versions.

President Clinton, who has proposed his own set of cuts totaling $1.1 billion, could veto the bill. Republicans would need Democratic help to get the 290 House votes and 67 Senate votes needed to override a veto.

"I'm sure some of it's going to change," House Speaker Newt Gingrich said of the $17.5 billion package. "But it is a serious effort on a historic scale to begin cutting federal spending."

Rep. Bob Livingston, the Louisiana Republican who heads the Appropriations Committee, defended the cuts as "more scalpel than meat ax" and said they were the first step in reducing defended the cuts as "more scalpel than meat ax" and said it was the first step in reducing the size of the federal government.

But, countered Rep. David Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat, "This bill today is not about deficit reduction." He added, "It is about cutting kids and cutting seniors in order to free up money for tax cuts for rich people."

Republicans have earmarked much of the savings as a down payment on $200 billion in tax cuts and their pledge to balance the budget early in the next century. Of the $17.5 billion total, $5.4 billion would be spent for disaster relief in 40 states, including help for victims of the January 1994 Los Angeles earthquake and more recent flooding in California.

Maryland officials were reacting as if the ax -- not the scalpel -- were being used.

"These funds . . . are vital to the preservation of health and shelter for poor families," said Sandra Brown. She runs Maryland's federally subsidized $20.6 million heating assistance program, which would be wiped out if the cuts are enacted.

Ms. Brown said grants averaging $250 a year go to 90,000 poor families to help pay heating bills -- 28 percent of them elderly and 30 percent who are "working poor."

While local officials were bracing for budget cuts by the Republican Congress, Ms. Brown said it was "a very major shock" to learn that the program would be wiped out if the House GOP proposal becomes law.

A Capitol Hill source said a Clinton administration analysis shows Maryland would lose about $90 million in federal housing funds, including $22.2 million to renovate 1,200 public housing units; $43 million in new housing assistance for 1,100 families; and $24 million in public housing operating subsidies.

Maryland officials are still trying to determine the impact that the proposals would have on the state and did not have a comprehensive assessment available yesterday. They were relying largely on figures provided by a Washington organization that analyzes the federal budget for state governments.

"Use it all with a grain of salt," warned Jake MacKenzie, an analyst for the organization, Federal Funds Information for States, who said the state-by-state breakdown is based in part on assumptions about how the early versions of some major cuts would be divided among the states.

The analysis showed that Maryland school systems face $17 million in cuts and that the state will lose $18.5 million more in Environmental Protection Agency funds. The EPA money was to go for construction or upgrading of wastewater treatment plants under a new safe drinking water measure -- a bill that Congress failed to pass last year.

Baltimore City and the 23 counties stand to lose $24 million -- two years' worth of funding -- that provides nearly 10,000 summer jobs for poor teen-agers. The GOP is proposing to scrap the program, which costs $850 million a year nationally.

An aide to Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat, said the hit list includes another $11.1 million in EPA funds to begin construction of a new lab at Fort Meade to replace an aging, rented facility in Annapolis.

With the Corporation for Public Broadcasting facing a 22.5 percent cut, Maryland Public television expects to lose funds. It gets about $3 million of its $27.6 million budget from the corporation.

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