Md. could reap U.S. windfall in earmarks

House likely to OK spending bill with nearly $100 million sought for state

December 10, 2009|By Paul West | paul.west@baltsun.com

Nearly $100 million in spending earmarked by Maryland lawmakers appears headed to more than 70 projects in the state under a huge year-end spending measure that the House is expected to approve today.

The new money is on top of more than $800 million in additional spending for Maryland projects that was requested by President Barack Obama in his 2010 budget and placed in a $1.1 trillion package agreed upon by House and Senate negotiators late Tuesday. The measure includes $150 million for the Washington-area transit system, $138 million for consolidation of the Food and Drug Administration's offices at White Oak and more than $500 million for military construction projects in the state.

Maryland earmarked spending in the package includes $3 million in new transit funds for Baltimore's proposed east-west Red Line; $13 million related to the federal military base realignment program, mainly highway construction projects; another $44 million in earmarked military construction around the state; $13 million for an array of juvenile justice and related law-enforcement initiatives; $11 million for health and science research and nearly $9 million for projects related to the Chesapeake Bay, including oyster restoration.

The earmarked money would be spread liberally across Maryland. Favored recipients include the state and local governments; colleges and universities, both public and private; as well as the Girl Scouts; the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation; the Kennedy Krieger Institute; and many more.

Each member of the state's congressional delegation, including self-described fiscal conservatives, had earmark requests included under the agreement by House and Senate negotiators.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, one of the negotiators, unleashed a flood of news releases Wednesday to trumpet the spending measure.

In reporting that a United Way of Central Maryland 2-1-1 health and human services hot line was on track to receive $800,000 in federal funding, the Maryland Democrat, who is running for re-election next year, pointed out that she had pledged to fight for the funding during a recent visit to a Baltimore call center.

"Today, my promises made are promises kept," she said.

Her statement did not mention that Democratic Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Baltimore County, an unabashed defender of the earmark system, was also credited with requesting and receiving the funding for the program. Left out entirely was Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat who had sought $2.1 million for the program; however, Cummings made his request to a different Appropriations Committee panel than the one that eventually approved the spending.

Cummings did succeed in getting more than a dozen earmarks approved, including two worth a total of $400,000 to Morgan State University and another, of $3 million, for a research consortium that includes Morgan State. Cummings serves as a member of the Board of Regents at Morgan State.

Earmarks, which Obama criticized in the 2008 campaign but has not seriously opposed this year, are spending requests by members of Congress that do not go through the usual budget process. They often are directed to a lawmaker's favorite projects or go to benefit a powerful group or institution.

Appropriations Committee members are the final arbiters of earmark requests, and they traditionally reserve a disproportionate amount of spending for their pet projects. Mikulski and Ruppersberger are the only Maryland appropriators, though Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, as the House majority leader, is an ex officio member of the committee.

This year, members of Congress from Maryland requested billions of dollars worth of earmarks, and a final tally of the money that will flow to projects in the state is not yet available. The annual defense spending measure, which could include more than $120 million in Maryland earmarks and was due to be approved by Oct. 1, has not yet been acted on by Congress.

As part of a plan to keep the federal government running into next year, Congress is preparing to vote on the $1.1 trillion measure crafted this week. It combines half of the dozen routine spending measures for the year, with a total of $447 billion in operating funds for nine Cabinet departments and another $600 billion for benefit programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

Senate action is unlikely before next week at the earliest.

Both houses of Congress must approve the legislation and Obama must sign it into law before the $1.1 trillion, which includes the earmarks, could be spent.

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