WASHINGTON – State lawmakers fear Washington, D.C., will not pay its share of a new Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge, and they said the federal government should be prepared to pick up the city’s share.
Increased federal funding for the bridge was one area of agreement Wednesday in a meeting between members of the state’s Annapolis and Washington delegations, that also touched on bay dredging and the way federal money is doled out to local governments.
Members of the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Federal Relations appeared most concerned about federal funding for the Wilson Bridge, which is already a priority for many members of the state’s congressional delegation.
“We need Maryland to pay their share. We need Virginia to pay their share,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Baltimore. “But most of all, we need the federal government to pay their share.”
The federal government has already approved $900 million for the bridge project and pending legislation would add $600 million in federal funds between 2004 and 2007.
That would leave Maryland, Virginia and the District to split the remaining cost of the estimated $1.9 billion project.
But the state lawmakers believe that the District, plagued by budget problems in recent years, will not be able to contribute its share.
“The federal government ought to just ante up,” said state Sen. Nathaniel Exum, D-Prince George’s, who suggested that the federal government pay the District’s share for them.
Rep. Constance Morella, R-Bethesda, said after the meeting that she believes the city will be able to contribute a share of the local bridge cost. “It would not be what Virginia or Maryland would pay, but they’d contribute,” she said.
The state legislators also asked Congress to keep its nose out of Site 104, a proposed open-bay dredge dumping site north of Kent Island that some have opposed for environmental reasons.
Port of Baltimore officials say that without the site, they will not be able to continue the dredging that is necessary to maintain shipping channels in the bay to the port. The state legislators asked their federal colleagues not to intervene on the issue.
But opponents cited reports that found that dredging would not increase the flow of traffic in the port and might harm the environment.
“We want the port to remain economically viable and profitable,” said Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville. “We don’t want to interfere with the [state] legislative process, but when the process goes awry, that’s when we need to get involved.”
But State Sen. Patrick Hogan, R-Montgomery, said the project is essential to the area’s success. “The bay has to continue to be dredged to maintain that level of productivity,” Hogan said.
Hogan and Delegate Henry Heller, D-Montgomery, also addressed the federal government’s allocation of funds to local jurisdictions. Heller complained that state legislators are not being notified when Maryland subdivisions receive federal grants.
“We just think it would be good fiscal policy for different levels of government to share information,” Heller said, adding that knowing where federal money is going would help the state better allocate its own funds.
But Rep. Ben Cardin, D-Baltimore, questioned the practicality of notifying states of all funding actions, noting that the state does not extend the same courtesy to its jurisdictions.
Heller said knowing about “major” grants such as those involving housing, education and roads would satisfy him. He recommended requiring such notification as part of future budget bills.
“It’s tough to be a partner when you don’t know what your partner’s ledger looks like,” Heller said.
Seven of the state’s 10 members of Congress attended the meeting, including both senators. Reps. Robert Ehrlich, R-Timonium; Albert Wynn, D-Largo; and Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, did not attend.