Bush's plan may hurt Maryland

Budget proposes to cut conservation, urban programs

`New way of thinking'

Spending on transit curtailed

military, education get boost

April 10, 2001|By Karen Hosler and David L. Greene | Karen Hosler and David L. Greene,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - President Bush supplied the details yesterday of a proposed budget that seeks to control the growth of federal spending by curtailing many of the urban, environmental and conservation programs particularly vital to Maryland that flourished during the Clinton administration.

Bush described the plan he sent to Congress as "a new way of doing business in Washington and a new way of thinking. The budget puts the taxpayers first, and that's exactly where they belong."

Federal spending subject to congressional approval would rise by 4 percent under the $1.96 trillion proposal. The president would boost funding for his top priorities, notably education, and make room for his 10-year, $1.6 trillion tax cut. Bush asserted that the government would still have enough left over to use $2 trillion of the Social Security surplus projected over the next decade for reducing the national debt.

To help pay for those goals, Bush proposed that money for public housing, child care, economic development, AIDS treatment and drug abuse programs be trimmed in the 2002 fiscal year, which begins in October.

Under his plan, Bush would also reduce the federal share of transit programs by 2004 to 50 percent from 80 percent. This reduction could force Maryland to scrap a $500 million transit program approved this month by the General Assembly.

All federal agencies that deal with environmental and land management - a key concern to coastal states such as Maryland - would also be cut. Money for the Chesapeake Bay clean-up program would drop by 10 percent, to 18.8 million from 20.7 million.

Further, Bush called for phasing out the community policing program, which has not met its goal of putting 100,000 more officers on the streets. A 17 percent cut in funding would take effect for next year. Baltimore has been among the leading beneficiaries of the program and was hoping for more help.

Some of the money saved would go toward improving security at public schools around the nation.

Bush defended his budget as a "common-sense" framework to prevent the government from overspending on what he views as unnecessary programs. The president has repeatedly called himself a "compassionate conservative," vowing to rein in overall federal spending while still generously funding selected priorities he views as crucial.

The administration's budget, for example, proposes outright cuts in 10 of the government's 25 main agencies, with departments of agriculture and transportation facing the biggest reductions.

"This budget funds our needs without the fat," Bush said.

But Democrats in Maryland and Washington argued that the president seemed to want to squeeze programs that mostly aid low-income Americans in order to cut taxes for those better off.

"At President Bush's inauguration, he promised a single nation, with justice and opportunity for all," observed Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat. "How are we going to have opportunity when the president's budget has cut the very programs that offer opportunity and ensure America's future prosperity?"

As the new commander-in-chief, Bush made good on his promise to improve the lot of military personnel by providing for salary increases of 4.7 percent. But he failed to provide the parity Congress has been seeking for civilian federal workers, whom the president has slated for pay raises next year of 3.6 percent.

"We're very concerned about the federal employees," who are compensated at 32 percent below their private-industry counterparts, said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Democrat from Southern Maryland, whose constituency is heavily laced with federal workers.

While Democrats found much to fault in Bush's budget proposals, they noted the likelihood that many of the cuts would be restored by Congress because Democrats as well as Republicans support numerous programs that the president proposed to cut.

For example, the Senate last week endorsed enough extra spending on health, education, defense, farm aid and veterans programs to bring the increase in domestic spending up to 7 percent or more, compared with the 4 percent increase Bush is seeking.

"The good news is that the spending will be restored, but the bad news is that large tax cuts will go through, too," said Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Baltimore Democrat. "The result will be that we'll either go back into deficits or dip into Social Security and Medicare."

The president proposed some spending increases, in some cases to fulfill campaign promises. For example, Bush had said that improving public education was to be his "top priority." Consequently, the Education Department received the biggest increase of any agency, an 11.5 percent boost in discretionary spending over the current year.

Bush is calling for tripling annual funding dedicated to reading, to $900 million, and for $329 million to help states meet his proposed requirement that they develop annual reading and math tests in grades three through eight.

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