WASHINGTON – Boosted by more than $1.8 billion in defense spending, St. Mary’s County received almost $24,000 in federal funds per capita in 1998, tops in the state and three times the Maryland average.
St. Mary’s received more than twice as much federal money per capita as second-place Baltimore City, where federal spending of $11,046 per resident was driven largely by payments like food stamps, Medicare and welfare.
Rounding out the top five for federal spending in Maryland were Montgomery, Prince George’s and Harford counties, according to a Capital News Service analysis of figures released this week by the Census.
St. Mary’s County was able to collect so many federal dollars per capita because of its relatively small population and the sizeable financial impact of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, said Walinda P. West, spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development.
She said it is “common sense” that a large amount of federal defense money is spent in Maryland, because of the state’s location.
Of the $23,981 in federal funds spent per resident in St. Mary’s County, a total of $21,117 went to defense — almost 90 percent of the total spending per capita in the county.
“It makes sense that the defense contractors are close to the defense spending,” West added.
Defense also pumped up the economies of Harford, Anne Arundel and Charles counties — home to the Aberdeen Proving Grounds, the Naval Academy and the Indian Head division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center, respectively.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, who fought to bring more military jobs to the Patuxent River base, called it one of the “largest and most important military installations” in the country.
“A strong naval station means a strong economy for the surrounding areas,” said Hoyer, who pledged continue fighting to protect the base.
But West said Maryland is “no longer pigeonholed into defense” and that the state has branched out into the bio-tech and computer industries, which have paid off handsomely in federal contracts for the state.
“We are diversified now … we have 6,500 tech companies,” she said.
That diversity could be why technology-rich Montgomery and Prince George’s counties landed more than $4 billion in non-defense federal contracts last year.
Those two counties also ranked high in federal salaries per capita, with St. Mary’s County again leading the pack. The U.S. government paid out almost $4.8 billion in wages to the three counties combined.
While federal salaries went to some of the state’s wealthier counties, the bulk of Maryland’s federal money for grant awards and direct aid programs, like food stamps, Medicare, Section 8 housing assistance and welfare, went to Baltimore City. The grant awards category also includes highway spending.
Besides receiving the most total federal spending in those areas — a total of $3.5 billion was spent in the city in 1998 — Baltimore also far outstripped the rest of the state in the level of such payments per capita. Baltimore got $5,393 per person, compared to a state average of $2,453.
Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke’s office would not comment on the CNS analysis of federal spending in Maryland’s jurisdictions, saying the city does not deal directly with the funding and it is a state matter.
The Census data showed that Maryland, which received almost $8,100 in federal funds per capita last year, trailed only Virginia in federal spending among states.
The federal funds paid for everything from Social Security and food stamps to salaries and defense contracts.
A spokesman for Gov. Parris Glendening said the money flowing into Maryland is, in large part, a matter of geography.
“It’s all about the location,” said Don Vandrey, the spokesman.
“The obvious reason is that we are directly adjacent” to the seat of the federal government “and we get a lot of federal contracts,” he added.
Vandrey insisted, however, that the Maryland economy is not relying too heavily on the federal dollar.
“No longer is the region totally dependent on the federal largesse, and that actually makes our economy more healthy … more diversified,” he said.
“We’re very pleased to see the federal government using our firms and companies for its business and research because it has a lot of spin-off benefits for Maryland,” Vandrey added.
“It’s a good thing and we’re very pleased,” she said of the high level of federal spending in Maryland. “We’re not going to turn down the business and say, ‘Oh no, go to Pennsylvania.'”