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Infrastructure, Build Back Better and earmarks: What big projects could be coming to Maryland?

Billions of dollars are headed to Maryland for roads, bridges, broadband and the Chesapeake Bay as part of the $1 trillion infrastructure package signed Monday by President Joe Biden.

But the infrastructure bill is only one of the measures Congress is considering that could send substantial federal aid to Maryland and its residents.

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Much more money is contained in Biden’s nearly $2 trillion social spending and climate change mitigation bill known as “Build Back Better,” which remains in congressional limbo. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said she wants the House to vote on the bill this week, which would send it to the Senate for further debate.

Also on uncertain ground are dozens of targeted local projects — they used to be called “earmarks” — such as $2 million for Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott’s plan to divert some 911 calls from police to behavioral health specialists, and $5 million for Baltimore Penn Station. Funding for these community projects is within the annual spending bills that pay for government. The bills have made incremental strides in Congress but have not yet cleared the Senate.

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Here is a look at what’s in these measures for Maryland.

Infrastructure

The Democratic president signed the bill Monday at a White House ceremony — attended by Scott, a Democrat, and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, as well as both U.S. senators from Maryland, Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, both Democrats — to showcase the infrastructure projects legislation that he has called a “once-in-a-generation investment.”

Americans should begin to see the effects of the bill “probably starting within the next two to three months,” Biden said earlier this month.

Most of the money is to be spent over five years. Dollar amounts are based on White House and congressional estimates of program funding formulas that consider need, population and other factors. In some cases, state and local governments will have to choose which road and bridge projects to spend money on.

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Maryland will get:

  • $4.1 billion in federal highway aid.
  • $409 million for bridge replacement and repairs. The White House says the state has 273 bridges and more than 2,201 miles of highway in “poor” condition.
  • An undetermined share of $17.1 billion in national funding for ports, much of it for new construction.
  • $1.7 billion to improve public transportation options across the state.
  • $63 million to expand the state’s electric vehicle charging network.
  • $7.9 million to protect against wildfires and $15.9 million to guard against cyberattacks.
  • $844 million to improve water infrastructure systems.
  • $238 million to supplement Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts.
  • $100 million to enhance broadband coverage across the state. In addition, about 1 million Marylanders will be eligible for funding aimed at helping low-income families afford internet access.
  • An undetermined share of $1 billion to remove damaging highways or other infrastructure projects of the past that split neighborhoods.
  • Language allowing the Red Line light rail project in Baltimore to be revisited as part of billions of dollars in transportation capital investment grants. Hogan canceled the project in 2015.

Build Back Better

The Build Back Better package aims to expand health care, combat climate change, fund universal prekindergarten, and expand paid family and medical leave for workers. The bill is a partner to the infrastructure bill but contains many new policies long sought by Democrats such as paid leave and money for families to offset the cost of raising children.

The bill has stalled as Senate Democrats negotiate its scope and Republicans object to many of its priorities and to the size of corporate tax hikes needed to pay for it.

Some moderate Democrats say they are waiting for the Congressional Budget Office to provide a definitive cost estimate of the legislation before voting. It’s uncertain how long that will take.

The aid included in the Build Back Better bill often would go directly to Maryland residents.

“I would say across the board this is going to reduce the squeeze on peoples’ pocketbooks,” said Van Hollen, who’s advocating for the legislation. “It’s going to significantly reduce the cost of affordable child care. It will also reduce the cost of prescription drugs and cut taxes for families with kids.”

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell recently called the measure “a multitrillion-dollar nightmare that would make inflation even worse.”

The bill still may be altered during negotiations, and its potential effects on Maryland are difficult to quantify. While the infrastructure bill is about large-scale projects, Build Back Better includes many provisions sending assistance directly to families.

The White House said in a state-specific briefing paper that the measure would enable Maryland to increase access to free preschool to more than 138,000 additional 3- and 4-year-olds per year, and expand rental assistance for Marylanders.

It said the families of about 370,000 young Maryland children would gain access to child care they might not otherwise be able to afford, and that an additional 55,000 students in the state would receive free school meals during the school year. The bill would cap child care costs based on a sliding income scale.

The bill also could include a provision raising the cap on the amount of state and local taxes that are deductible on federal income taxes. The 2017 Republican tax cut bill capped the total at $10,000, which meant that many residents of Maryland — a high-income-tax state — could no longer deduct their entire state and local tax bill.

Maryland had the highest percentage of filers in the nation, 24%, who claimed a state and local tax deduction on their federal income taxes in 2018, according to an analysis by the conservative-leaning Tax Foundation in January. Lifting the cap would most benefit high earners and those who own expensive homes or have high property tax bills.

Earmarks

A decade after being scrapped by congressional leaders, earmarks have returned, albeit with a new name and approach. Earmarks differ from other congressional spending in that they specify funding for projects by name.

Earmarks were once a symbol of sometimes wasteful spending that lawmakers slipped into congressional budgets. Now known as “community project funding,” the projects these days must be publicly announced and lawmakers must demonstrate community support.

Maryland’s congressional delegation submitted dozens of earmarks for the 2022 fiscal year that received the blessing of Democratic-led House or Senate committees as part of the appropriations bills that fund the government each year.

The House has passed a number of the spending bills, but the Senate has passed none. Citing disagreements with Democrats over priorities, some Senate Republicans favor continuing 2021 funding levels, which would prevent the new Maryland projects from being considered.

Here are some of the projects that Maryland Democrats have placed in pending appropriations bills:

  • $2 million to expand a 911 diversion pilot program in Baltimore City, according to Van Hollen and Baltimore County Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who advocated for the funding. The mayor’s plan calls for some 911 assistance requests to be diverted from police to behavioral health specialists.
  • $5 million for Baltimore Penn Station improvements as part of a larger redevelopment of the station in partnership with Amtrak.
  • $1 million to restore the Henry Highland Garnet School P.S. 103, which was attended by Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. The school will be redeveloped into a community center.
  • $650,000 for the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture to construct an exhibit on the history of lynching in Maryland.
  • $1 million for Vehicles for Change, a Halethorpe nonprofit that fixes donated cars and awards them to low-income families at minimal cost.
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