WASHINGTON – The omnibus spending bill that cleared the Senate Thursday includes almost $500 million for projects throughout Maryland — the fourth-largest amount of “earmarked” appropriations in the country.
The $477.9 million in Maryland projects are spread across the state, and range from a $40 million light rail project in Baltimore to $50,000 for autism research in Bethesda.
Critics said the amount of “pork” spending in the fiscal 2004 federal budget is out of control, particularly at a time when the nation is facing record deficits.
“We’re going to, by far, blow other years out of the water as far as totals,” said Keith Ashdown, vice president of policy for Taxpayers for Common Sense, which tallied the earmarks in the $328 billion budget bill that was approved Thursday.
“We’re on the cusp of a record deficit and . . . we’ve asked over and over for lawmakers to tighten their belts,” Ashdown said.
But lawmakers defended Maryland’s slice of the pie, noting the large concentration of federal facilities in the state that will be beneficiaries of the earmarked funds. Even Ashdown conceded that not all earmarks are bad, especially in Maryland where so many federal agencies are located.
Maryland’s $477.9 million in earmarks is divided between 129 projects. Pennsylvania, by comparison, will receive about $60 million less than Maryland, but that earmarked money will be spread between almost five times as many projects.
The $328 billion omnibus spending bill, which passed the Senate 65-28, combines seven appropriations bills for fiscal 2004 and includes nearly 8,000 earmarks, totaling nearly $11 billion. California had the most pork in the omnibus, with $965.5 million, followed by New York with $507.9 million, Alaska with $495.8 million and Maryland.
While some critics say the “pork” spending is wasteful, Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, said through a spokeswoman that the funds will help keep jobs in Maryland.
“The federal facilities in our area receive millions in federal funds each year to conduct extraordinary research and perform outstanding work,” said Hoyer, a member of the House Appropriations Committee. “I am fully committed to ensuring that our nation continues to invest in this research, which makes our food safer, supports our law enforcement, and provides hundreds of thousands of jobs to our region.”
More than half the money earmarked for Maryland will go toward construction of federal buildings or research projects at the many federal agencies located in the state. For example, more than $146 million was earmarked for the U.S. Census Bureau building in Suitland and $42 million was allocated to build a Food and Drug Administration laboratory in White Oak.
Chesapeake Bay research and cleanup efforts, and organizations such as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, garnered about $12 million of the state’s earmarks.
The Federal Transit Administration’s New Start transportation projects are also a major part of the earmarked funds, including $65 million for the Metrorail extension to Largo and $40 million for the light rail project in Baltimore.
But there are scores of other, smaller projects, like $32,000 for Safe Haven projects in Hyattsville and $100,000 for the Baltimore Child Abuse Center.
A spokeswoman for Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the earmarks are a fair way to ensure states get what they need.
“(Mikulski and Hoyer) work hard to take care of Maryland,” said Amy Hagovsky, Mikulski’s press secretary.
Ashdown conceded that some of the Maryland earmarks are merited, but he doubted that 129 projects were necessary.
“You can’t judge a good and bad earmark,” he said. “Part of it is federal buildings, part of it is these big transit projects — and then there is another slew of 120 earmarks.”
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