Cuts called threat to bay, urban poor

Maryland Impact

February 08, 2005|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

The Bush administration's effort to limit spending increases in his new budget proposal will gut programs important to Maryland, state lawmakers and advocates say, including Chesapeake Bay cleanup and support for nonprofits that work in the state's poorest communities.

The proposal includes millions for construction at Fort Detrick and the Patuxent River Naval Station. But it would eliminate money to replenish Ocean City's beaches, delay construction of a new federal office building in White Oak and cut a law enforcement program that targets high-intensity drug trafficking areas such as Washington and Baltimore.

"Overall, the president's budget proposal for fiscal year 2006 will have dire implications for our nation and our state, and Marylanders have reasons to be concerned," Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Southern Maryland Democrat, said in a statement.

In a news release, the White House trumpeted a $10 million increase in Title I education funding for Maryland under the No Child Left Behind Act and an $8 million increase in special education funding.

But environmentalists and lawmakers said the state will suffer from more than $40 million in cuts to Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts, including $32 million in revolving loan funds for sewage system upgrades for Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington, and $10 million in direct bay cleanup funds. About $2 million of that cut would affect continuing programs.

"This is not surprising at all, given how anti-environmental the Bush administration has been, from tearing down our forests to allowing polluters to pollute our air and not funding critical water programs," said Susan Brown, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters.

Acting EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson said the cuts were necessary during a time of war, when the government is shifting more of its focus toward homeland security.

But Roy Hoagland, vice president for environmental protection and restoration for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said federal cuts are likely to hamper the state's efforts to upgrade sewage treatment plants, which Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. made a centerpiece of his legislative agenda last year with the so-called "flush tax."

"This is really taking us backward," Hoagland said. "If we want to reduce pollution, we need to put money into programs we know will reduce pollution, and this is taking money out of those solutions."

An Ehrlich spokesman said the state's budget office was examining Bush's proposal and had not determined what impact it would have on Maryland.

Erosion control

The Bush budget would eliminate a federally funded program to help stop erosion along the waterfronts of Ocean City and Assateague Island, leaving the beaches at risk, critics said.

"This budget proposal leaves Ocean City and Worcester County vulnerable to hurricane damage," said U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a Democrat, in a written statement.

Bush's proposal would also eliminate the $4.7 billion Community Development Block Grant program, which helps fund a variety of inner-city revitalization programs nationwide, and replace it with a new $3.7 billion economic development program. In Baltimore, block grants help fund lead-paint abatement, community development corporations, Habitat for Humanity and job training.

"It's core operational money for us that has helped us lead this 91 percent decline in childhood lead poisoning," said Ruth Ann Norton, executive director of the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, which got a $134,500 grant last year. "It would be devastating to take this money away."

The Druid Heights Community Development Corporation, which rehabs houses and provides an array of social services for residents of the West Baltimore neighborhood, relies on block grants for more than 20 percent of its $900,000 annual budget, said Jackie Cornish, the group's executive director:

"It hurts us and, as much as we try to operate like other businesses, it is difficult because we're not so bottom-line oriented. You just cannot take the average Baltimore vacant, abandoned building and renovate it for a little bit of money. It takes a lot of money to renovate these houses ... and people have to be able to afford to live in them and maintain them."

Although the president's budget proposes to increase funding for the Housing Choice Voucher Program, commonly referred to as Section 8, by $1 billion, some local housing officials say the additional funds won't be enough to cover rising rents and funding backlogs from previous years.

As a result, new clients might not be able to enter the program and some people could be dropped.

"How can you fund a war and build houses in another country when the people in your own country are starving and living in the streets?" said Dondrea Ross, 42, a single mother who uses her voucher to cover the $550 rent for her Baltimore apartment. "I am struggling here with a 13-year-old. Let's do something for people in this country."

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