WASHINGTON – Gov. Martin O’Malley presented his top five federal priorities to the Maryland congressional delegation in a meeting on Capitol Hill Wednesday, with transportation infrastructure and Base Realignment and Closure changes topping the list.
We need “to keep team Maryland always in the forefront,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., to kick off the hour-long afternoon meeting.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, pointed out that even though the “team” contains two parties, “the two Republicans and six Democrats all work hand in hand.”
While both the state’s senators and all eight representatives were due to attend, voting on the House floor meant a lot of ducking in and out as schedules permitted.
Still O’Malley urged the lawmakers to push for federal funds for transportation, BRAC, the Chesapeake Bay, health care, education, and homeland security.
“The transportation issue is huge,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., before the meeting, “especially with BRAC upon us.”
Maryland is expecting 45,000 new jobs and 71,000 new students to move to the area by 2011 through military personnel shifts.
Hoyer emphasized this point with a description of the “parking lot” at the intersection of Brandywine Road and Rt.5 during the weekday rush hour.
In response to the horrific traffic that will only be exacerbated by BRAC, O’Malley outlined a $184 million transportation improvement plan including a fully funded statewide bus system.
“We have an obligation to our residents and businesses that there will be no negative impact (from BRAC),” said Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Cockeysville, as he rushed to the House floor for a vote, “the only way to do that is through infrastructure.”
Mikulski and Cardin expressed their commitment to secure federal funds for the State-Children’s Health Insurance Program when O’Malley presented them with the approximate state figures.
There are 122,000 children covered by S-CHIP for whom the government picks up $113 million of the $172 million tab. However, all government funds are due to expire in May and the number of uninsured children still hovers around 133,000, O’Malley said.
On homeland security, which O’Malley described as the “nexus for federal involvement,” he reminded the lawmakers that Baltimore is the “closest deep water port to the nation’s capital.” That means security funds are an imperative so any response to a major tragedy in Maryland is “better than Katrina.”
While all agreed that O’Malley’s five priorities deserve the most attention, Mikulski made sure the expansion of broadband Internet service to the Eastern Shore was discussed, and Cardin voiced his concern on the effects of climate change on the bay.
The lawmakers will follow up with meetings on S-CHIP and on interim, short-term, traffic solutions.
In all, the senators and representatives supported O’Malley’s outline, but Cardin warned the governor that “it’s a tough year.”
“Quite frankly the president’s budget would not allow many of the things you said,” Cardin explained, but emphasized that they would do everything they could to change that.
Mikulski stressed the need for “sequencing” the allocation of money over the next few years, as she said to the governor, “your plan is like you, big, bold and unattainable in one term.”