Trump budget would have major impact in Maryland

The $4.4 trillion budget proposed Monday by President Donald Trump reinforced his administration’s desire to slash money for the Chesapeake Bay and drastically reduce the federal workforce while maintaining research funding at the National Institutes of Health.

The spending plan called for eliminating earth science projects tied to Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, zeroing out grants on which cities such as Baltimore rely for redevelopment and proposing cuts to programs that help low-income families pay their rent.

Republicans on Capitol Hill praised the document for adhering to the themes — if not the specifics — of Trump’s presidential campaign. Namely, it would make good on Trump’s long-held desire to boost the military while reducing the rest of the federal government.

Presidential budgets rarely influence spending — “dead on arrival,” is how they are usually labeled on Capitol Hill — and that’s especially likely to be true this year. Congress has already approved a two-year budget plan that would increase spending on domestic programs rather than drastically cutting it.

“This is a messaging document,” acknowledged White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney.

The message?

“You don’t have to spend all of this money, Congress,” Mulvaney said. “But if you do, here’s how we would prefer to see you spend it.”

The budget calls for about $716 billion in annual defense spending, more than $100 billion above the level Trump requested last year. Add in the tax cut Republicans pushed through in December and the extra spending Congress approved last week, and the result is a flood of red ink that would send the national debt higher.

Trump's budget anticipates deficits throughout the next 10 years even if Congress were to approve some $3 trillion in cuts over what he's proposing to a wide range of federal programs. Both parties already rejected most of those cuts last year, and have shown little interest in pursuing them.

Among those is the near elimination of the Chesapeake Bay program, in which the Environmental Protection Agency monitors and enforces a pollution “diet” that requires states to adopt policies that reduce the nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that wash into the bay.

The Trump administration sought to eliminate that program last year as well, and members of both parties balked. Even EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, an ardent critic of what he has seen as the agency’s historic overreach, described the Chesapeake Bay program recently as a “tremendous success.”

“This is yet another assault on clean water, from a president who campaigned saying he valued it,” said William C. Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Rep. Andy Harris, a member of the House Appropriations Committee who has supported the bay program, applauded the document.

“I hope the president's budget begins a national discussion of spending priority decisions necessary to close the $1 trillion deficit that will result from last week's budget 'compromise,’” said the Baltimore County Republican, who voted against the budget agreement last week. “Washington's insatiable appetite for spending has to be curbed.”

Lawmakers are working toward a March 23 deadline to approve a spending bill that would lay out which federal programs will receive federal money.

The president’s proposal, which covers the fiscal year that begins in October, would eliminate spending for the PACE mission. Short for Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem, the program, which is being tested at Goddard, would monitor the health of Earth's oceans, including the cycling of carbon.

Another mission up for elimination, DSCOVR, monitors changes in the Earth's ozone as well as the energy reflected and emitted from the sunlit face of the planet.

Trump’s budget would eliminate the $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program, which Baltimore uses to board up vacant homes and for job training. It would also cut $4 billion in rental assistance.

“This budget makes it clear that President Trump is doubling down on the Republican effort to squeeze working families in order to pay for his massive tax giveaway to the very wealthy and big corporations,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat and member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a statement. “He is not just failing to help the ‘forgotten’ men and women he promised to prioritize — this budget actually makes their lives harder.”

But Trump’s most recent budget marked a departure from some provisions of his first spending plan last year. After an earlier proposed reduction to the Bethesda-based National Institutes of Health met with broad, bipartisan opposition, Mulvaney joked, “I learned my lesson.” The new budget calls for about $35 billion for the agency, roughly consistent with last year.

That’s especially important for the state’s large research entities, including the Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland, which receive hundreds of millions of dollars in federal grant money every year.

After suggesting last year that the Department of Homeland Security shutter a relatively new biodefense laboratory at Fort Detrick, the administration now says that a cost-sharing agreement between the department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation would keep that facility running.

Maryland officials were assessing the potential impact of a decision to reclassify a critical dredging project for the port of Baltimore within the Army Corps of Engineers’ budget. Under that project, sediment from the port is used to build up Poplar Island off Talbot County into a bird sanctuary.

The administration proposed reclassifying the project in a section headlined “Increases Transparency for the American Taxpayer” without explaining its motives. Neither the Office of Management and Budget nor the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Washington responded to questions about the decision.

Congressional aides said they believe the reclassification would require a more rigorous cost-benefit analysis to ensure future funding. A separate document showed that the Army Corps has set aside $21 million to continue Poplar Island work next year.

Federal employee unions said they were disappointed that Trump’s budget included a government-wide freeze on civilian salaries, and a requirement that government workers contribute more to their retirement. Any such change would have an outsized influence in Maryland, home to roughly 300,000 federal workers.

“This document grossly distorts the current state of the federal workforce,” said Tony Reardon, National President of the National Treasury Employees Union. “Pay freezes only chase the best and brightest workers to the private sector.”

The Tribune Washington Bureau contributed to this report.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jfritze

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
79°