Md. share of earmarks exceeds $200 million

Some lawmakers are unhappy state didn't receive more

December 20, 2007|By Matthew Hay Brown | Matthew Hay Brown,Sun reporter

WASHINGTON -- Maryland will get more than $200 million in earmarks - pet projects sponsored by members of the state's congressional delegation - in the omnibus spending measure approved yesterday by Congress. But the figure fell millions short of what lawmakers had hoped to receive.

More than $15 million will go toward rail and road improvements to accommodate the tens of thousands of new households expected to arrive in Maryland with the military base expansion over the next five years.

The figure is more than $5 million below the amount approved earlier by the Senate to help state and local officials prepare for the expansion of Aberdeen Proving Ground, Fort Meade and other military facilities in the nationwide base realignment and closure program known by its initials, BRAC.

Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, chairman of Gov. Martin O'Malley's BRAC Cabinet, said the state would continue to invest in necessary transportation projects, even with reduced federal funding.

"It doesn't deter us from our goals and objectives," he said. "It's just a question of how quickly we get there."

The Maryland projects were contained in the omnibus package to fund the government through September 2008. Congressional Democrats, facing a veto threat by President Bush, reduced overall domestic spending in the measure.

The legislation, which Bush is now expected to sign, also reduces funding for base realignment and closure nationwide by nearly $1 billion - a cut that could slow the expansion of the Maryland facilities. State officials are counting on that growth to draw tens of thousands of new workers and pump billions of dollars into the Maryland economy.

"Unfortunately, President Bush's refusal to negotiate with congressional Democrats has shortchanged our nation's domestic priorities," Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said through a spokeswoman.

After Maryland lawmakers sought large earmarks to accommodate the growing facilities, the Senate approved $21 million in September to buy more locomotives for the MARC commuter rail system, improve access to Aberdeen Proving Ground and develop the Central Maryland Transit Operations Facility at Fort Meade, among other projects. The legislation now contains $15.36 million.

Still, Mikulski, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, called it "a big win for the communities who are already at work to design and implement new initiatives to prepare for BRAC."

"This is just a down payment," said Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who represents Aberdeen Proving Ground and Fort Meade. "This is just the beginning of the process."

Ruppersberger, in his first term on the House Appropriations Committee, saw the value of his earmarks grow from $67 million before the omnibus to $99 million. The funds include money for BRAC-related job training at Towson University and Anne Arundel Community College and improvements to state highways and Harford County roads around Aberdeen Proving Ground.

"We thought all earmarks were out the window to begin with," Ruppersberger said. "We did extremely well."

Among the cuts, $13 million approved by the Senate for MARC was reduced to $9.8 million; $3 million to improve access to Aberdeen Proving Ground was reduced to $2.2 million; and $1 million for the Central Maryland Transit Center was reduced to $657,000.

More ominous might be the cut in funds to implement the BRAC recommendations nationwide. Bush sought $8.2 billion to close some bases and expand others. In a cut intended to meet the funding level demanded by Bush, lawmakers approved $7.2 billion.

For now, it will be up to the Pentagon to decide which of the hundreds of realignment projects will get less money. Lawmakers in the affected states will try to restore the money in the spring, when Congress takes up another emergency spending bill to continue funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Beyond earmarks, Mikulski said Maryland communities dealing with base expansion would benefit from increases in two federal programs. Lawmakers added $12 million to the program that pays local school districts that educate children who live on military installations, and $500 million in federal funding for children with disabilities.

Outside of base realignment, the legislation includes $57.5 million for U.S. Army Corps of Engineer projects, including $19.19 million for annual maintenance dredging of the Port of Baltimore shipping channels, $13.39 million to continue the restoration of Poplar Island with materials dredged from the shipping lanes, and $13.08 million for operations and maintenance of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal and approach channels.

The Port of Baltimore and Poplar Island projects received a combined $3.48 million more than the Senate Appropriations Committee approved in June.

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