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Stimulus Bill Sends Thrill Through Region
Local Officials Drawing Up Wish Lists

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.

Many local governments began compiling wish lists in December, anticipating swift passage of a federal stimulus package.

Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) wrote House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), offering "a clear picture of how a recovery package can work at the local level" and enumerating $42 million in repairs to bridges and intersections.

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) wrote Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), at her invitation, requesting funds to modernize schools, build a police forensics lab and replace the Eleventh Street and South Capitol Street bridges, among other projects.

Lobbying might do little good. Congressional officials said the money will be divvied up using the same maze of formulas that directs federal dollars to state and local agencies in the regular budget cycle. The spending package will contain no "earmarks" to guarantee funding of specific projects, according to senior congressional aides.

But enough details of the plan have emerged that local leaders have begun to estimate how much they stand to gain.

An O'Malley administration analysis suggested, for example, that Montgomery County could get an extra $130 million for education and that Prince George's could get $169 million. Statewide, the analysis found, the stimulus bill would provide $191 million for school construction, on top of the $260 million that O'Malley has proposed to provide next year. Van Hollen said he planned to hold a news conference today with the superintendents of the Montgomery and Prince George's school systems.

"There is a huge, huge need," O'Malley said.

Virginia has no statewide wish list. But Loudoun County has compiled $512 million worth of "ready-to-go" projects, with road improvements making up nearly half that total.

Prince William County assembled a list of "shovel-ready" projects, those ready to go within six months, because the legislation favors work that can be done quickly. The county would aim to use stimulus money to buy buses for the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission, to help preserve historic Rippon Lodge and widen the Prince William Parkway.

Before giving up his post as chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) sent Fairfax's "consideration list" of projects to Capitol Hill. Fairfax officials circulated an updated list last week.

Most of Fairfax's projects are upgrades to sewage and storm water systems.

Connolly said the bill would send as much as $74 million over two years to Fairfax County schools, $30 million to Prince William schools and more than $1 million to Fairfax City schools. Much of the money would benefit low-income children, special education and school construction.

Staff writers Amy Gardner, Kristen Mack, Mary Beth Sheridan and Sandhya Somashekhar contributed to this report.

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