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Volume XVII, Issue 2 - January 8 - January 14, 2009
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Let’s Get Stimulated!

How should Maryland spend the
Obama windfall?

by Sandra Olivetti Martin

Will the economic recovery package being crafted in Washington pump life and jobs back into our economy? Will Maryland — we of mostly good roads — spend most of our share on more roads?

Local politicians are putting the finishing touches on wish lists as Congress begins work in earnest on the $800 billion stimulus legislation that will be one of Barack Obama’s first orders of business as president.

Even before Obama takes office, the folks in Washington are already busy trying to save the economy by taking on more debt — so much that it amounts to a bigger investment than the interstate highway system and the race to the moon combined.

But will Maryland spend that money the right way? Could we be frittering away a once-in-a-lifetime chance to chart a green future?

There are strong opinions on how that money should be spent, and that’s why we’re inviting you to offer your own stimulus ideas to guide Congress.

Should we repave more roads and fix our bridges? Give priority to Chesapeake Bay recovery? Spend a big chunk of Maryland’s share on education, health-care costs and digging state government out of its hole?

What’s your thinking on spending some $80 billion in longer and broader unemployment benefits? And the 21st century’s own Works Progress Administration proposal of 600,000 new jobs — in and for government?

Name a project or offer an idea. Be as specific as you want. We’ll make sure elected officials hear what’s on your mind.

A Southern Maryland Information Speedway

For instance, the Tri-County Council of Southern Maryland, which includes Calvert, St. Mary’s and Charles counties, has a plan for another kind of highway: an information artery.

The council wants to extend broadband internet capacity through the heart of Chesapeake Country with a 65-mile fiber-optic network running from Parole in Anne Arundel County to the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in St. Mary’s.

A draft proposal from the council’s executive board also includes more traditional construction: $5 million to relieve Prince Frederick’s growing traffic congestion.

Already, a robust debate is underway, Bay Weekly’s New Year’s survey of politicians and environmentalists found.

Wish Lists

“Green jobs are in danger of disappearing from the stimulus package, to be replaced with shovel-ready jobs,” asserts Earth Day Network’s Kathleen Rogers.

Rogers says we get more bang for our bucks by spending big on energy-efficient school construction. Investing in green schools would shortly produce enough savings to let each school hire two additional teachers, while at the same time preventing tons of greenhouse gases from adding to climate change.

Kristi Horvath, of Maryland’s Public Interest Research Group, also worries about a bonanza of road construction.

“It is wrongheaded, in an era when public transportation is booming and bridges need repair, for state wish lists to be skewed toward building new highways,” she said.

There are a lot of cooks around this stewpot, and governors are trying to get as much of the money as they can under various formulas with the fewest strings attached.

Gov. Martin O’Malley sent a letter to Maryland’s congressional delegation suggesting that he will be asking for a little bit of everything.

O’Malley said states ought to get many of their billions in flexible block grants in addition to heavy cash infusions for non-construction uses such as unemployment insurance and Medicaid.

O’Malley’s letter also spoke to how far behind Maryland has fallen in seeing to Chesapeake Bay maintenance: He wrote that his Department of the Environment had identified more than 100 “much-needed” water and waste-water projects: a billion dollars worth of plugging nitrogen pollution leaks from sewers and wastewater treatment plants.

Asked their thoughts, Marylanders in Congress seemed ready to defer to many of the governor’s requests.

As a senior member on Senate Appropriations, Sen. Barbara Mikulski will be in the thick of the dealing. A spokeswoman said that “it will be up to Gov. O’Malley to decide which ready-to-go projects receive funding” under existing formulas.

Sen. Ben Cardin responded that he’s interested in green jobs but also wants to see the billions being spent help regular folks cope with their plights in these brutal times.

“I want to make sure that homeowners get the help they need to save their property,” Cardin said. “Effective stimulus does not mean simply sending more money to big businesses and large banks.”

Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Doug Siglin said that his organization has been pushing for healthy allocations for wastewater treatment plants and stormwater runoff projects. In an email, he sounded more confident than other environmental advocates.

“I’m pretty sure that when all is said and done, the stimulus package will have hundreds of millions of dollars — perhaps over a billion — for wastewater improvements and other water quality projects in the Bay watershed,” he wrote.

What Do You Think?

What do you think? Let us know at [email protected] how you want all these billions spent.

After all, it’s your money.

© COPYRIGHT 2009 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.