Rawlings-Blake outlines federal wish list

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake laid out a broad federal policy agenda in a meeting with the city's congressional delegation Monday, detailing a wish list for Washington that includes additional money for transportation projects, crime prevention and school construction.

Though Congress remains politically divided and unlikely to approve many of the city's priorities — particularly in this presidential election year — the lawmakers said they would continue to fight for federal money for summer youth jobs, to combat gun violence and to pay for wastewater system upgrades.

"We talked about the importance of growing our city," said Rawlings-Blake, who was flanked at a City Hall news conference by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and Rep. John Sarbanes, all Democrats. "We want to build on our recent success."

City officials said they support many provisions included in President Barack Obama's proposed 2013 budget, including a $20.2 billion increase for Department of Labor programs that pay for summer and year-round youth jobs as well as career counseling and training nationwide. The budget proposal also includes a $60 million increase for criminal justice block grants that help pay for several crime-prevention programs in the city.

But the city has also expressed concerns about the administration's proposal to cut funding for water infrastructure upgrades, including a proposed $268 million cut to a program that helps cities across the country improve wastewater treatment facilities. Rawlings-Blake is scheduled to testify on that issue before a Senate subcommittee Tuesday.

"Infrastructure is the key to Baltimore's future," Mikulski said.

As in the past, the president's budget is likely to face strong opposition in Congress, especially in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

Transportation infrastructure may be an area where the city's interests can align with what's politically possible in Washington this year. The House and Senate are both working on large transportation bills to pay for highway, bridge and public transit improvements.

While progress on that legislation has stalled in recent days, there appears to be bipartisan support for moving some transportation bill forward in coming weeks. A House version of the measure appears to have collapsed under pressure from both Democrats and some Republicans who are partly concerned about how that proposal dealt with mass-transit funding.

The transportation bill could have a big effect on Baltimore's proposed Red Line, for instance. The Obama administration put the east-west light rail line on a fast track last year for expedited permitting and environmental review.

Some of the city's proposals, such as advancing the Obama administration's job-creation plan, have met with stiff resistance in Congress as lawmakers prioritize reducing the nation's spiraling budget deficits over programs that require new spending.

"The cuts that we make must be done with the skill of the most skillful heart surgeon," Cummings said. "We're also committed to making sure that cities like Baltimore are able to survive these difficulties."