WASHINGTON – When Baltimore City official Yolanda Winkler learned that the federal government spent more than $9.4 billion in the city last year, she questioned how much of it actually went to the residents.
Her conclusion: very little.
“We don’t get enough from anyone,” said Winkler, the city’s deputy director for intergovernmental relations. “That’s the bottom line.”
While overall federal spending between 2002 and 2003 grew in most Maryland jurisdictions, including Baltimore City, much of that growth came in procurement contracts, salaries and retirement and disability payments. Grant funding fell by 4.6 percent during the same period, according to a Census Bureau report released last week.
Because the Census combines public and private recipients of federal funds in its report, it is impossible to say which of those grants go to county and city governments for things like community development, education and policing programs, among many items — but local jurisdictions insist it’s not enough.
Winkler pointed to a city budget report that said that of the $3.8 billion in grants the federal government sent to Baltimore last year, just $236 million went directly to city coffers.
“If we got $9 billion for the city anywhere, we would have no problems,” Winkler said. “We suffer severe reductions in major programs affecting our citizens, especially in social services, homeland security and even federal housing grants.”
Baltimore City is not the only jurisdiction feeling the pinch. John Erzen, a spokesman for Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson, said the county actually has a surplus of funds right now due to smart financial planning, but that residents have seen less aid coming from the state and federal levels.
“Our surplus will keep us running, even if there’s less funds from the state level,” Erzen said.
But advocacy groups said that local governments have little reason to complain.
“It’s just that they want to spend more, and spending is the problem,” said Dee Hodges, president of the Maryland Taxpayers Association. “When the counties whine and complain . . . they really aren’t telling us the whole truth because they’re always making more income.”
Others said that local governments and residents still benefit from increased federal spending, even if the money is not going directly into their pockets.
“There’s almost a direct correlation between economic growth and the jurisdiction and how much contract dollars they get,” said George Mason University professor Stephen Fuller. “(In) suburban Maryland, for every dollar in procurement, they get $1.80 in economic activity.”
And Paul Prososki, state government affairs manager at Americans for Tax Reform, said spending on procurement contracts can save local governments money in the long run because contracting out work is often less expensive than doing it in house.
“The potential is certainly there to relieve the burden on other programs, because if you can save money by contracting, it’s better,” Prososki said.
But local county officials countered that they have yet to see any of that relief.
Montgomery County spokeswoman Donna Bigler said that the procurement money coming into the county was “all good stuff” for the employees and economy, but she agreed with Winkler that residents see very little of it directly.
“There are companies in our county that benefit, but then again the county government and residents don’t necessarily benefit,” Bigler said.
Bigler said that lack of direct aid forces “hard choices every year” at budget time.
“There are federal mandates . . . but then the money doesn’t come with it, so you’ve got to figure out how to do with what you got,” she said.
But Fuller said private spending is a whole lot better than no spending. Even if contractors employ workers who do not live in the same county in which they work, he said, the additional spending benefits the tax base in that county.
“They do leave money behind, and they don’t demand public services,” Fuller said of out-of-county employees. “The places that get more, grow more.”
-30- CNS 10-15-04