- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 31, 2009

Maryland’s local governments will have direct access to portions of the $819 billion stimulus package the House passed this week in an effort to stem further job losses in the state, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, a Democrat, said Friday.

Meeting in Greenbelt with a group of mayors from his 5th Congressional District, Mr. Hoyer assuaged worries that the stimulus package, aimed at creating jobs through improving infrastructure and other state projects, would pass over municipalities for larger-scale projects.

“When this bill passes, we will have a workshop with the relevant people in your shops about what can be done now,” said Mr. Hoyer.

“Hopefully our earlier response will prevent the type of economic calamity that affected the U.S. during the ‘30s. In the long term our fiscal health will be protected. Municipalities have a big role to play.”

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, in place of Gov. Martin O’Malley, who was too ill to attend, and Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari were also at the meeting to provide assurance. The 5th District is composed of all of Charles, St. Mary’s and Calvert counties, as well as portions of Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties.

The mayors were largely appreciative of the attention they were receiving from such a high-ranking member of Congress, but expressed concerns for their municipalities.

“I have never gotten more letters from people who lost their jobs,” said Craig A. Moe, the mayor of Laurel.

The three Democrats emphasized to the mayors that the main priority will be the speed with which individual projects could get under way. “Shovel-ready” projects account for the vast majority of money in the bill.

“Basically we are funding system preservation,” said Mr. Porcari. “It is time for a new generation of investments, and we are focused on getting those out the door that can be started within the first 90 days.”

The details of the bill, which passed through the House on Wednesday and was described by Mr. Hoyer as largest bill ever voted on, are not carved in stone and could see some changes before facing a vote in the Senate next week.

The $3.54 billion in federal funds provided to the state under the bill would relieve some of the fiscal pressures on Maryland as tax revenues have plummeted, Mr. Hoyer said. If it passes through Congress as is, the bill is also expected to create some 99,200 jobs in the state and reduce the unemployment rate by 2 percent over the next two years.

It also would give about 2 million Maryland taxpayers up to $500 for individuals and $1,000 per family in tax cuts.

Mr. Hoyer also mentioned that a second bill would be possible if the first one does not provide enough money, though he said he hopes that won’t be necessary.

Meanwhile, Mr. Brown cautioned the municipal leaders to make the proper preparations by contacting state officials to figure out which projects could be eligible for the federal funding.

“This is going to be a feeding frenzy,” Mr. Brown said.

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