By GRAHAM MOOMAW
WASHINGTON (March 12, 2010) - Gov. Martin O'Malley asked Maryland's congressional delegation Thursday to devote unused federal money to spur small business lending and create jobs in the state, where unemployment remains at 7.5 percent despite more than $4 billion in stimulus funding.
Money returned from the Troubled Asset Relief Program should be used to guarantee small business lending, O'Malley suggested.
"If you could make it possible for us to access those dollars, to be repaid to the federal government, it would allow us to leverage on a one-to-six basis, the sort of small business lending that could be going on to create jobs and improve the business climate in our state."
The appeal came as O'Malley brought his Cabinet to Capitol Hill Thursday to lay out his administration's federal funding priorities for fiscal 2011, which begins July 1.
The event was organized by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, and every Marylander in Congress attended except for Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, who was attending a White House meeting.
O'Malley presented the delegation with an agenda focused on job creation, transportation infrastructure and public safety. Federal dollars are expected to be harder to come by due to the federal spending freeze proposed by President Obama, which would begin on Oct. 1.
"We know you're under tremendous constraints and tremendous challenges and I know that you understand that our state government is as well," O'Malley said.
The state is facing a $2 billion budget shortfall this year, which the governor has proposed filling by furloughing state employees, transferring $1 billion from other funding sources and slashing $375 million from state agencies.
The federal government has its own fiscal problems. Last month, the federal deficit was a record $220.9 billion, which is 14 percent higher than the previous record from February 2009.
As O'Malley laid out his spending priorities for the upcoming year, he thanked the delegation for providing relief for the state through stimulus funds and Medicaid assistance.
"Although we're one of the stronger states from a fiscal standpoint...I know that we would be in deep trouble were it not for your prompt action and leadership on this," said O'Malley.
Funding for Base Closure and Realignment improvements, bus transit and the Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority were among the infrastructure projects highlighted by O'Malley.
Also on the governor's wish list was funding for a statewide radio interoperability project to smooth communications between first responders and law enforcement agencies.
After the presentation, O'Malley fielded questions from the members of Congress.
Mikulski asked how much money Maryland had spent to recover from the back-to-back snowstorms earlier this year, saying she was working to acquire federal "dough for snow."
Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley said the state spent $130 million, doubling the $65 billion budgeted. The state already won a federal disaster declaration for one storm, and Maryland Emergency Management Agency director Richard Muth said he expects to submit another request to the federal government within the next two weeks.
"Well, we're ready," said Mikulski. "As soon as you finish your request, we'll be able to sign a joint letter to get this into the record."
Roscoe Bartlett, the lone Republican in the state's delegation, said he was part of a broad spectrum represented by team Maryland.
"I'm a conservative Republican so I can't vote for these big government programs," Bartlett said. "But I'll tell you, after they vote to spend the money, I join my team Maryland colleagues in trying to get it all for Maryland."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.