Md. ready to use all stimulus aid

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON -Gov. Martin O'Malley assured members of Maryland's congressional delegation yesterday that the state is prepared to spend all of its roughly $3 billion share of President Barack Obama's economic stimulus package.

The $789.5 billion spending and tax-cut measure, expected to gain final approval in Congress this week, contains use-it-or-lose-it provisions that would require states to decide relatively quickly how to spend portions of the federal money, including for highway projects.

"There's not a doubt in my mind that we'll be able to use every dollar for the purpose intended and show you how we used it," the Democratic governor told lawmakers in a 75-minute public session that followed a private luncheon in the new visitors center at the Capitol.

O'Malley expressed concern about a provision in the measure that could penalize Maryland and other states that invested heavily in education at the expense of other needs. The Senate version would allow the education secretary to grant a waiver that could allow those states to receive a larger share of education aid.

The governor and Maryland lawmakers met as U.S. House and Senate negotiators sought compromise. Details were not immediately made public and the fate of that provision and others remain in doubt.

Officials said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski's provision to give tax breaks to buyers of new cars remains in the measure but was reduced by eliminating deductions for interest payments. Buyers would still be able to deduct state sales or excise taxes on their purchase, a change that cuts the price tag to about $2.5 billion from $11 billion over 10 years.

Before the final deal, cuts in school construction and financial aid to states had reduced Maryland's overall share by about $950 million, to $3.3 billion, compared with an earlier version approved by the House. White House and congressional negotiators restored about $9 billion in education aid, however, and Maryland was expected to get about $15 million for school construction.

O'Malley said that "under any version" the state had come out ahead.

"If we had told you a month and a half ago that soon the state of Maryland might be able to receive $3 billion ... you'd say that was pretty good work for 22 days," since Obama took office. "So I think it's great that we're even having this conversation," the governor told reporters.

Mikulski emphasized the everyday stimulative impact of "a cornucopia" of federal laboratories, military bases and other major facilities in Maryland, including the Social Security Administration, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the National Security Agency and the National Institutes of Health.

"Every time the federal government spends a dollar, a lot of it is being administered in Maryland," she said.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore warned the governor that congressional Republicans would try to scrutinize the spending of "every dime" in the package. O'Malley assured the 7th District Democrat that anyone could go to state government Web sites for details of school construction, wastewater and other projects already approved, designed and "ready to go" once money is available.

The ostensible purpose of the annual gathering of Annapolis and Washington officials was to allow the governor to present details of his $550 million wish list for U.S. aid to Maryland in next year's federal budget.

The largest portion, $328 million, would go for federal funding of state transportation projects. They include a new rail tunnel alignment in Baltimore, maintenance of Interstates 68 and 70, and highway improvements in Harford, Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Prince George's counties related to the federal base realignment process.

The state is also requesting $212 million for public safety programs and the recapitalization and development of Prince George's Hospital Center.

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