Low on the needy list

The Brac Effect

February 26, 2007

No one doubts the tenacity with which Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski will follow through on her recent promises to fight for "every nickel" she can get in federal money to help foot the bill for accommodating an estimated 40,000 government and contractor jobs headed to military bases in Maryland.

Yet local officials must recognize such a campaign on behalf of a state that came out a winner in the base realignment and closing process - and stands to gain a substantial economic benefit - faces long odds in Washington. As it should.

Further, so little is yet known about how many of these jobs will go to newcomers and how many will be filled by Marylanders already in homes and schools here, it's not at all clear what the impact of the base expansions at Fort Meade and Aberdeen Proving Ground will be.

Most certain is that traffic around the bases will increase, requiring highway upgrades and, ideally, a major expansion of rail and other modes of mass transit.

But there's little room for that in President Bush's $8.2 billion base realignment budget for next year, which is mostly devoted to on-base construction, accommodating military families returning from overseas and soothing the woes of communities where stateside bases are closing.

Senator Mikulski is proposing to ease the strain on Maryland classrooms by speeding federal impact aid that compensates public schools for accepting the offspring of federal personnel who live on base and thus don't pay local property taxes. Currently, such payments are based on actual enrollment, but Ms. Mikulski would release them early in anticipation of the students.

This gambit might work as a bid for federal cash, but it hardly represents careful budgeting. It now appears that very few students who would qualify for such aid will ever materialize here because most jobs will be filled by workers living off base.

Despite pledges from the Democratic Congress to bring the federal budget back into balance, the pork barrel favor factory has only been temporarily shut down. Thus, senior members such as Ms. Mikulski still have access to goodies. With so many vital federal programs chronically under-financed, though, Maryland would be wise to prepare for its good fortune with its own resources.

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