Stimulus Bill Sends Thrill Through Region

President Barack Obama met with Republican leaders on Capitol Hill as he seeks support for his proposed economic stimulus plan. Video by AP
By Daniel de Vise and John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, January 27, 2009

As Congress prepares legislation to pump more than $800 billion into the economy, governments in the Washington region are lining up for their share: dollars that could mobilize stalled projects to mend water mains, repave roads and rebuild schools, as well as plug other budgetary holes.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) said yesterday that a stimulus bill pending on Capitol Hill would bring the state as much as $2.9 billion over 27 months for Medicaid, education programs, worker training and "fiscal stabilization" and an additional $1 billion for transit, school construction and clean-water projects.

Virginia officials said the state could be eligible for as much as $800 million for highway projects alone.

"There are many, many projects that are ready to go as soon as we know the criteria and how much money we're getting," said Gordon Hickey, a spokesman for Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D).

The stimulus plan is viewed in the two states and the District as something of a bailout. But it remains unclear how much money local governments will get and how many items on their wish lists will be funded, given the vagaries of funding formulas and the evolving nature of the legislation.

Governors and members of Congress are being deluged with inquiries and wish lists from local governments, which see the American Reinvestment and Recovery Plan as deliverance from a fiscal nightmare.

For state and local governments, the situation is deteriorating. Maryland is trying to close a $2 billion shortfall. Virginia has delayed more than $2 billion worth of road and transit projects statewide because of declining tax revenue. The District faces a shortfall of nearly $260 million.

O'Malley said the federal money might allow his state to forgo some cuts in a budget proposal he presented last week for the coming fiscal year. Among the cost-cutting measures in that budget was a proposal to lay off 700 state workers.

"The last thing in the world I would want to do is lay people off in the down economy," O'Malley said.

At a water treatment plant in Silver Spring yesterday, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) pledged to seek $75 million to help repair a 5,500-mile system of aging water pipes in Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

The system has sprung 4,000 leaks in the past two years, and the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission reported 252 breaks and leaks in the five days leading up to President Obama's inauguration. Memories are still fresh of the Dec. 23 rupture that briefly turned Bethesda's River Road into a river. At current levels of funding, it would take 200 years to repair and replace all the water lines, WSSC says.

"Senator Mikulski and I are here to say that help is on the way," Van Hollen told a cheering crowd.

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