WASHINGTON – Gov. Martin O’Malley couldn’t say what the state would do without President Obama’s $800 billion stimulus package when he listed his federal priorities for the Maryland congressional delegation Wednesday.
“We want to hear from you what we need to be able to do,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., before O’Malley’s presentation. “We are dedicated to having a smart government and a smart stimulus.”
The governor listed education, transportation, health care, environment and public safety items on his federal wish list.
“We need to recover, we need to reinvent, we need jobs, jobs, jobs,” O’Malley said, flanked by members of his Cabinet.
But when Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, asked if Maryland could shoulder the burden of the state’s financial demands and crashing job market in the absence of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, O’Malley’s answer was circuitous and boiled down to: The state needs that money.
Joining Mikulski and Hoyer in the new U.S. Capitol Visitor Center were Maryland’s junior Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin and Reps. Donna Edwards, D-Fort Washington; Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore; John Sarbanes, D-Towson; C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, D-Cockeysville and Frank Kratovil, D-Stevensville. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington, and Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, did not attend.
“It’s important not only to create jobs, but not to lose jobs,” O’Malley said. “If we only invested in the infrastructure we’d be back where we started.”
O’Malley said he has the “same challenges as the President,” however on a much “smaller scale.”
Maryland could create and retain between 70,000 and 100,000 jobs with federal aid, according to O’Malley.
In late afternoon Wednesday, it appeared the House and Senate had reached agreement on the differences in their stimulus plans and planned to push a compromise bill worth about $789 billion.
“If what comes to Maryland is in the form of $3 billion, two-year, economic stabilization plan,” that’s certainly much better than what Maryland has received from the federal government over the last eight years, said Shaun Adamec, responding for the governor to the news of the agreement.
At the Capitol Hill meeting, Cummings wanted to be reassured that the money that Maryland would receive from the stimulus would be “effectively and efficiently” appropriated.
O’Malley said he would “use every dollar for the purpose it was intended” and be able to show how it was used.
“We’re in crisis mode here,” said Cardin, who also said he wanted O’Malley to invest in Maryland’s future by creating and preserving jobs.
Cardin asked O’Malley how he would ensure that Maryland’s local governments will be able to sustain essential government services.
O’Malley said 40 percent of the state’s budget goes back to the counties and that when shrinking a budget “it’s almost impossible” not to touch monies designated for local government services.
“The real need outpaces the dollars available to do the construction,” said O’Malley. “We know where the need is . . . Our economic crisis cannot be saved in 22 days,” he said, citing the budgetary process involved in implementing the stimulus package.
But the bottom line came when Mikulski asked if she was correct in saying that Maryland could not support the state’s increasing fiscal demands, including that of Medicaid, which has seen a significant increase in enrollment over the past few years.
“Absolutely, positively true,” O’Malley responded.
And when further asked of the grim possibility that the legislation or its implementation might fail, O’Malley said: “The good news is there is a bill.”
Among the specific items O’Malley presented to the delegation were:
— $5 million for the Judith P. Hoyer Center for Early Childhood Learning and Innovation at the children’s Museum at National Harbor.
— A new rail tunnel alignment in Baltimore.
— Maintenance funds for Interstates 70 and 68.
— Upgrades to major wastewater treatment facilities.
— New money for “recapitalizing” the troubled Prince George’s Hospital Center.
— $300,000 for a technical assistance program for minority businesses to compete for federal contracts as part of the Base Realignment and Closure process.
Capital News Service reporter Dylan Waugh contributed to this report.