President's budget has Marylanders concerned about future of Chesapeake Bay. (WJZ)
President Donald Trump unveiled a budget Thursday that calls for eliminating spending on the Chesapeake Bay, reducing medical research and slashing the federal workforce to levels not seen in decades — part of an effort to force a historic resizing of the government he now leads.
In Maryland, a state where the economy is closely tied to federal spending, the $1.15 trillion budget could put thousands of civilian government employees out of work but also boost defense activity in the state. Urban development and road projects in Baltimore could be put on hold while additional money may be set aside for addiction treatment.
The proposal, which faces opposition in Congress, underscores the administration's desire to limit the federal government's reach into housing, the environment and safety-net programs, while vastly increasing investments in the military and homeland security — all of which reflect promises Trump made during his campaign.
The Bethesda-based National Institutes of Health would take a $5.8 billion hit, despite bipartisan support to increase funding for research. A federal grant program that Baltimore has used to demolish vacant homes and renovate community centers would be eliminated, saving $3 billion.
Perhaps the most tangible and immediate impact on Maryland would come from a proposal to eliminate a $73 million effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. That program, which has enjoyed bipartisan support, will be a focus for the state's congressional delegation as lawmakers turn to setting spending levels for next year.
"We can't spend money on programs just because they sound good," said Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget and the chief architect of the budget proposal. "We cannot defend that anymore."
Unlike in state government, the president's budget rarely reflects the actual spending approved by Congress. At least one Republican declared the budget "dead on arrival," and others offered mostly tepid support of the president's plan.
Rep. Andy Harris, whose district includes the Eastern Shore, has supported funding the Chesapeake Bay program. A member of the House Appropriations Committee — charged with setting spending levels — Harris said Thursday he would work to prioritize the program.
But the Baltimore County Republican said he backs Trump's goal of increasing defense spending. The budget calls for a $54 billion increase — the largest spike since President Ronald Reagan — offset by cuts to nondefense programs. That could benefit military installations in Maryland such as Fort Meade and major contractors such as Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin.
"As the worldwide terrorist threat and other international dangers grow, President Trump's proposed increases in defense and homeland security spending are vital for continuing to keep Americans safe," Harris said.
"This just makes no sense," said William C. Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which had initially expressed optimism that the new administration would support the bay. "If you eliminate the bay program, you slam the door on a recovery."
Internal party divisions over a proposed budget are not unique to the Trump White House: Many Democrats were reluctant to cast a vote on President Barack Obama's budgets — a fact GOP leaders frequently pointed out.
While Republicans offered understated support to the latest proposal, Democrats were quick to criticize.
Democrats described the proposal as a betrayal of the populist message Trump struck during the campaign. They pointed out that it put taxpayers on the hook for $2.6 billion to begin work on a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. During the campaign, Trump repeatedly said Mexico would pay for the wall. And they noted the budget also proposes to cut infrastructure spending, an apparent departure with Trump's vow to spend $1 trillion rebuilding highways, bridges and airports.
Mulvaney said infrastructure spending would be boosted in a separate proposal later this year.
"The reality is this is our first opportunity to see what their priorities are," said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat and a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. "Their priorities clearly are not the things that Donald Trump talked about during the campaign."
Neither the budget nor White House officials said Thursday how many federal employees could be laid off under the proposal, saying that department leaders would have wide flexibility to implement top-line cuts. But it is unlikely departments would be able to "shrink the role of government," as Mulvaney put it, without also shrinking the workforce.
Cuts to federal employment would have an economic impact in Maryland, where some 300,000 residents — roughly 10 percent of the workforce — work for a civilian federal agency. Maryland is ranked third in the nation in per capita federal spending, at nearly $16,000 for each resident, according to an analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Maryland budget officials predicted this month that Trump's earlier executive order to simply freeze federal hiring would result in 4,653 fewer Marylanders working for the federal government, reducing income tax revenue by $25 million and sales taxes by $7.2 million.
The federal budget cuts, if enacted, could have a significant impact on the state's budget. Trump's proposal to eliminate the bay program, for instance, specifically noted it was intended to "return the responsibility for funding local environmental efforts and programs to state and local entities."
That would put a political burden on Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, and the Democratic majorities in the General Assembly to either find a way to fund the programs or explain to voters why they were unable to do so.
"If any of these budget proposals ever become law, we will take a serious look at how to address them during our budget process next year," Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said in an email. "Governor Hogan has invested more than $3 billion in efforts to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay and will remain a fierce advocate going forward."
The proposal also calls for eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts, low-income heating assistance, the AmeriCorps national service program and the Appalachian Regional Commission, which provides economic development funding in Western Maryland — a region of the state that supported Trump.
Many of those programs have been targets for years and have nevertheless survived, even during periods when Republicans controlled Washington.
Budget hawks, meanwhile, are concerned that Trump's budget is not balanced, despite the deep cuts. Trump pledged to eliminate the national debt, but his first budget would instead add $488 billion to it.
Mulvaney noted the "skinny budget" released Thursday does not deal with entitlement programs, which represent nearly three-fourths of government spending, and which almost certainly must be altered to address U.S. debt. The White House will offer a more comprehensive budget document in May, he said.
Trump's budget covers the 2018 fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1. But before Congress can turns to that period, it must first address the fact that current-year government funding will expire at the end of next month. Because the legislative calendar has been consumed with approving Trump's Cabinet picks and, more recently, repealing the 2010 Affordable Care Act, it is not clear how much progress has been made toward dealing with that more immediate deadline.
The budget proposal was often vague, providing only two-page summaries for most departments. The document called for putting aside an additional $500 million for opioid addiction prevention and treatment, for instance, but it was unclear if that was the same money that had been approved by Congress and the Obama administration.
While proposing reductions at NIH, the budget also said the administration would reduce "administrative costs and rebalance federal contributions to research funding" without clarifying what that meant.
The Johns Hopkins University is one of the nation's largest recipients of NIH grant funding.
"These proposed cuts are the antithesis of 'making America great,'" wrote Michael J. Klag, dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in an email to colleagues. "They would be devastating for biomedical research in the United States but, more importantly, for the health of persons in the U.S. and around the world."
Baltimore Sun reporter Erin Cox contributed to this article.