D.C. Region Finds Much To Bemoan or Cheer in Plan

By Mary Beth Sheridan and David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Politicians in the Washington area expressed disappointment with President Bush's proposed 2009 budget yesterday, saying it would strip millions from environmental and homeland security programs and hold pay raises for civilian government workers below those of military personnel.

There were local bright spots, however. The budget calls for nearly $500 million to begin construction of a giant Homeland Security Department headquarters on the vacant western campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital in Southeast Washington, a priority of Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).

In addition, the budget includes more money for the District's schools, college scholarship program and sewer system.

The president's budget proposal is the opening shot in a process that will probably drag on for months, as Congress considers his requests and makes changes to reflect its own goals. Lawmakers said they will fight to preserve funding for homeland security programs and for environmental initiatives tied to the Chesapeake Bay.

For years, the region's congressional delegation has struggled to obtain equal pay raises for civilian federal workers and military personnel. Both groups received an average 3.5 percent increase this year. But the president's fiscal 2009 budget calls for a raise of 3.4 percent for military personnel and 2.9 percent for civilians.

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) said he was "frustrated we must fight the battle again" over raises for federal workers.

"The fact is our government could not operate without these hard-working individuals -- most of whom could make more money if they hadn't chosen to dedicate their professional lives to serving their fellow citizens," he said in a statement.

The House majority leader, Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), said the difference in raises "is unacceptable and will not stand."

Hoyer also protested cuts in programs benefiting local law enforcement agencies and emergency first responders. The president's budget called for reducing by nearly half the $3.5 billion budgeted this fiscal year for state and local programs administered by the Department of Homeland Security.

Local lawmakers and activists expressed dismay at the proposed funding for programs to protect the Chesapeake Bay. Cleanup of the bay has consistently failed to meet deadlines.

"The tide of federal spending is going out," Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said, "when it should be coming in."

Activists said the Environmental Protection Agency's Chesapeake Bay Program, for instance, would lose at least $1.5 million from its current $30.5 million budget. That program oversees the federal and state effort to clean up the bay.

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