Md. fares poorly as Bush budget cuts programs

Democrats criticize plan to keep big tax cuts as the federal deficit grows

February 03, 2004|By John B. O'Donnell | John B. O'Donnell,SUN STAFF

Maryland got largely grim news yesterday from President Bush's budget plan, including a wide range of cuts in important programs and a slim pay raise for the several hundred thousand federal employees who live in the state.

Maryland Democrats were quick to criticize the plan, focusing largely on Bush's proposal to make tax cuts permanent as the federal deficit grows.

"He presses on," said Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes. "He's going to give these big tax cuts, and he's not going to fund a number of very important programs. Everything involves a choice, and he's choosing to give large tax cuts primarily to wealthy people and not to fund important environmental, transportation, education and health programs."

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Baltimore-area Democrat, blamed the president for worsening the $7 trillion national debt, saying: "There's no sense of urgency from this administration on the debt and no acknowledgment that it was his policies that contributed to the debt."

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Western Maryland Republican, was also critical of the deficit, saying he welcomed the "concern" from colleagues in the overwhelmingly Democratic Maryland delegation. He demanded cuts in spending, saying, "The president's tax cut that I voted for is part of the solution, not the problem for reducing the deficit."

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Baltimore Democrat, found "some bright spots for Maryland in the president's budget this year," noting the increased funding for consolidation of Food and Drug Administration operations at White Oak, a "modest" increase in funding for the National Institutes of Health and more homeland security money for high-risk urban areas.

But she found fault with cuts in spending for education, veterans health care and other homeland security grants.

Among other things, the president's $2.4 trillion spending plan proposed:

More than $200 million for civilian and military construction and renovation projects in the state, including $88.7 million for FDA construction at White Oak and $46.2 million for the final phase of renovation at the George H. Fallon federal building in Baltimore.

A 1.5 percent pay increase for civilian federal workers and a 3.5 percent military pay raise, prompting Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Southern Maryland Democrat, to accuse Bush of "ignoring the bipartisan principle" of equal raises for civilian and military personnel.

A $544 billion budget for the Woodlawn-based Social Security Administration, up 4.3 percent, including a 6.8 percent increase in the administrative budget.

Net cuts of nearly $50 million from the current year in programs to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay, including efforts to upgrade sewage treatment plants and reduce sewage overflows.

"It appears as if the Bush administration is defunding the Chesapeake Bay restoration program and that concerns us a great deal," said William Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

A cut of nearly 7 percent in Community Development Block Grant funds important to Baltimore and other subdivisions. The president sought $4.6 billion nationally for the program.

Slightly reduced funding for public housing operating and capital expenses and no money for the HOPE VI program that has financed the replacement of public housing projects, including several in Baltimore. Last year, the president proposed to eliminate the program, but Congress approved $150 million.

A $16.9 billion cut in Section 8 rental assistance for the poor, a 6.3 percent decrease.

"It appears that the Bush administration's policy on affordable housing is to make the affordability crisis worse for those who can afford housing the least," said Sheila Crowley, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

A slight increase, to $1.8 billion, to help low-income Americans pay home heating bills - far less than the $3 billion that is needed, according to the Northeast-Midwest Institute.

A 66 percent increase, to $1.2 billion, in "high threat urban area grants" from the Department of Homeland Security and a reduction of $1.1 billion in other Homeland Security grants, including funds for "first responders" and port security.

"This is not a time to be cutting funding for our firefighters, EMTs and police officers who work hard to try and keep our communities and families safe," said Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Baltimore County Democrat.

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