Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s administration has hired a team of Capitol Hill lobbyists exclusively to secure money for transportation projects, saying that funding for the proposed intercounty connector could be "significantly reduced" and that there are no Maryland lawmakers "strategically placed" to influence the outcome.
But legislative analysts are recommending against the additional $200,000 expenditure, arguing that Maryland already spends as much on other lobbyists and has a senator, Paul S. Sarbanes (D), on the negotiating committee that will decide on the federal transportation funding bill.
"It's not evident why we would need to do this in light of the resources the state has already put toward government relations," said Warren Deschenaux, director of the office of policy analysis at the Department of Legislative Services.
Democrats, pointing to Ehrlich's campaign boasts about his Capitol Hill access, question why the former Republican congressman would need more muscle in Washington.
"He made a lot of promises during the campaign and afterward that because of his stature in Washington, he would not only secure transportation dollars but other dollars for the state of Maryland, and that has not been the case," said Ryan O'Doherty, research and communications director for the state Democratic Party.
The administration hired lobbyists from the Washington firm Williams & Jensen in March and is seeking approval for the funds tomorrow from the state Board of Public Works, which consists of Ehrlich (R), state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer (D) and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp (D). If the board denies approval, the lobbyists would be paid for the work they have completed and let go. Schaefer and Kopp did not return calls for comment yesterday.
Federal funding for the intercounty connector and other road projects has been tied up in the six-year transportation reauthorization bill that is before Congress. The bill was slated to be voted on last fall but has been delayed several times over competing price tags of Congress and the Bush administration.
Congressional leaders are talking about a bill in the range of $318 billion, while President Bush has drawn the line at $256 billion. The original House version of $375 billion had $9 million earmarked for the connector, which would traverse Montgomery and Prince George's counties to connect Interstates 270 and 95.
With potential cutbacks and the ongoing negotiations, state transportation officials said they needed outside help.
"We rely on the funds from the federal reauthorization bill very heavily, and so this is part of our overall strategy of increasing funding for transportation," said Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan.
Flanagan said the lobbyists' work would complement Ehrlich's connections. The lobbyists are "former Hill staffers who have connections to current Hill staffers, and they are doing the groundwork and allowing me as secretary to do the groundwork for the governor, at the appropriate point of time, to contact key members of the House and Senate," he said.
Denis J. Dwyer, lead lobbyist for Williams & Jensen, described their work as "technical in nature" and confined to "funding formulas and how Maryland might be affected in that."
"Quite frankly, there is not a lot of day-to-day contact that we are doing," Dwyer said. "The governor has significant relationships that far outstrip ours. It's not as though the governor needs us to lobby on his behalf."
Deschenaux, whose agency is charged with analyzing the request, noted that the state retains two full-time Capitol Hill lobbyists at an estimated cost of $200,000. One of them is assigned to track transportation legislation.