Federal spending bill funds Md. transportation projects

Maryland will see hundreds of millions in federal cash to build the Red Line, dredge the port of Baltimore and clear a backlog of rape kits, among other provisions in a massive budget deal reached by congressional negotiators Tuesday night.

The $1.1 trillion deal under consideration by the House of Representatives would avert a federal shutdown, and in the process funnel millions to key Maryland transportation projects and initiatives.


The deal funds all of the federal government until the end of September, except for the Department of Homeland Security. That agency's role in immigration enforcement made it a target of House Republicans seeking to prevent funding to implement President Barack Obama's executive order that delays deportation for up to 5 million immigrants.

Also tucked into the omnibus budget bill are 1 percent cost-of-living raises for many of Maryland's 300,000 federal workers,


Other provisions keep open air traffic control towers that were threatened with closure at five of the state's rural airports and ensure veterans do not miss out on certain benefits if the government shuts down again.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Maryland's senior Democrat and chair of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, was one of the central negotiators crafting a bill for Congress to pass before it adjourns Friday for the holidays.

"This agreement means no government shutdown and no government on autopilot," Mikulski said in a statement. "In today's era of slam down politics, we were able to set aside our differences. Working across the aisle and across the dome, we created compromise without capitulation."

As written, the deal includes $100 million toward the $2.9 billion, 14.1-mile Red Line light-rail project planned for Baltimore and its suburbs. Baltimore city and county leaders have pledged another $280 million for the transit line connecting Woodlawn to East Baltimore.

The funding doesn't ensure the Red Line will be built. While advocates praise the project as crucial for helping to rejuvenate the city, Republican Gov.-elect Larry Hogan has offered tepid support and balked at its price tag.

Hogan, who has declined to discuss plans for transit before he takes office Jan. 21, said during his campaign that he thought Maryland would be better served by building more roads and bridges.

The congressional spending plan also includes $100 million for the proposed Purple Line through the Washington, D.C., suburbs.

Congress has until midnight Thursday to pass a budget bill, although congressional leaders have said they are considering a temporary measure to extend the current spending plan by a few days to give the Senate more time to vote on the bill.


The House is expected to vote as soon as Thursday morning.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, will need to rely on Democratic votes to pass the spending bill over the objections of some of his party's most conservative members, who want to take a stronger stance against Obama's fiscal policies.

Along with cash for Maryland, tacked onto the spending bills were extra provisions that span the political spectrum — including easing rest rules for truck drivers, loosening financial derivatives regulations for Wall Street and meddling with aspects of a voter-approved marijuana initiative in the District of Columbia.

Maryland's lone Republican in Congress, Rep. Andy Harris, has been a vocal opponent of loosening marijuana laws and objected to D.C.'s November vote to legalize the drug. The omnibus bill prohibits the district from spending any revenue on regulations that would legalize and tax marijuana.

"Numerous studies show the negative impact regular recreational marijuana use has on the developing brain and on future economic opportunities for those who use this illegal drug," Harris, a Baltimore County physician, said in a statement. "I am glad Congress is going to, in a bipartisan way, uphold federal law to protect our youth by preventing legalization in Washington, D.C."

The bill also has new money to handle the Ebola crisis in Africa and to fight Islamic State insurgents, and also new reductions in social welfare programs, including a cut to the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program.


The proposed federal spending plan would put 149 small airports across the country onto more solid footing after years of threatened closure of their air traffic control towers.

In Maryland, airports in Easton, Frederick and Hagerstown and in Baltimore and Wicomico counties would get enough cash to keep their towers open for another year. Together, those airports handled 342,441 commercial and private flights in 2012.

The bill also includes $46 million to dredge channels and shipping lanes leading to the port of Baltimore. The preparations are being made to handle an anticipated increase in trade from the widening of the Panama Canal.

Another $150 million in the bill would help buy new rail cars for the Metro, the D.C. region's transit system.

Mikulski praised a provision that would fund key benefits for veterans in a way that would ensure they get retirement checks, spousal support, and education benefits even if the there's another government shutdown like the one that ground federal agencies to a halt in 2013.

Another new grant program funded in the bill would, among other things, help clear backlogs of rape kits languishing in police departments across the country.


Baltimore's backlog on all DNA evidence analysis once stood at 1,500 cases, though police said earlier this year it had been reduced to about 440 cases.

Tribune Newspapers Washington bureau contributed to this article.