Maryland would share in federal bounty under Clinton's proposed spending plan

Funds are earmarked for transportation, harbor, space science

February 08, 2000|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton's proposed budget for the next fiscal year offers a feel-good bounty for Maryland, promising millions to boost mass transit and roads, finance new space research and preserve open land throughout the state.

"There are a lot of provisions in the budget that are good" for the state, said Maryland Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a Democratic member of the Budget Committee. "We're still sorting through it."

The president's proposal now faces the scrutiny of the Republican-led Congress, which has in the past significantly altered his budget plans.

Major public works projects share space in the $1.8 trillion budget plan with smaller initiatives promoted by Maryland politicians.

For example, Clinton proposed $3 million under the "Lands Legacy" program to purchase privately held land in Charles County to preserve open space in Southern Maryland, which is experiencing heavy population growth.

The project is backed by Sarbanes and Democratic Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, who represents the region.

The president also calls for a 3.7 percent pay increase for federal employees -- well above the current 2.4 percent inflation rate -- which would cost an additional $3.1 billion next year.

Maryland has about 130,800 federal employees, fifth most in the country.

That federal pay figure might rise by the time lawmakers are done with it. Rep. Constance A. Morella, a Montgomery County Republican, says she is working with other Washington area lawmakers to win a 4.2 percent raise for federal employees.

In addition, the Clinton administration would adjust a key federal retirement plan to reduce the amount employees have to contribute to it, according to Sarbanes, who has pushed for that revision.

By boosting spending on items popular with Marylanders, the Clinton administration is able to tie policy to politics in a manner that stands to enhance Vice President Al Gore's presidential aspirations.

"It does strengthen their Maryland base," said Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Baltimore-area Democrat. "The bricks and mortar investment in federal agencies is very good for Maryland."

Among the biggest of the big-ticket items:

A pledge of $600 million in new money for the replacement of the federally owned Woodrow Wilson bridge connecting Prince George's County to Alexandria, Va. Congress previously approved $900 million toward the total cost of the bridge, which is projected to fall between $1.8 billion and $2.1 billion.

Roughly $67 million for projects to make navigational improvements to the Baltimore Harbor and to maintain shipping channels in the Chesapeake Bay and the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. The proposals include funds to create dikes on Poplar Island, a man-made isle in the middle of the bay formed with the spoil dredged from shipping channels.

State officials consider these programs pivotal to the continued financial health of the Port of Baltimore. But the dredging in the C & D Canal and the bay is also the source of controversy for environmental activists who charge that the state does not have adequate safeguards in place for disposing of the spoil.

$500 million over five years for a new NASA initiative called "Living with a Star" at the Goddard Space Flight Center to study the effects of the sun on Earth. The administration would put aside $20 million for the effort next year, but spending levels would increase sharply in subsequent years.

Last fall, Congress approved $15 million for a similar but unrelated project on solar-terrestrial probes carried out this year by the Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory. Congressional aides said NASA was negotiating with APL to conduct the new solar research as well and said the Hopkins facility was considered likely to do so.

The space programs are being championed by Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, the senior Democrat on the Senate subcommittee that sets spending limits for NASA.

$10 million for a second, parallel set of tracks for Baltimore's light rail system.

Much of the other spending would aid projects already under way.

The budget would set aside $2.2 million for the continued restoration of Glen Echo Park, a nearly century-old Montgomery County amusement park. The Gaithersburg-based National Institutes of Standards and Technology would be given an additional $35 million for further improvements at its laboratories.

And Clinton's budget would set aside $101 million for the planned consolidation of the Food and Drug Administration at its White Oak facility in Montgomery County. An additional $2.5 million is earmarked for beach restoration on Assateague Island.

State highlights

$600 million for the Woodrow Wilson bridge

$500 million, five-year NASA initiative at Goddard Space Flight Center to study effects of the sun on Earth

More than $65 million for projects involving the dredging and maintaining of shipping lines in the Chesapeake Bay and improving the Baltimore Harbor

$10 million to provide a second, parallel set of tracks for light rail system in Baltimore $10 million to connect MARC's Penn and Camden lines for better access to the Baltimore Inner Harbor and Camden Yards

$10 million for final design and initial construction on extending the Washington Metrorail Blue Line three miles in Prince George's County

Source: Federal officials

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