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Van Hollen Banks on Obama Bailout to Rescue Budget

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The House Committee on Education and Labor gives estimated allocations for Maryland's local education agencies (.pdf)

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By Lauren C. Williams
Capital News Service
Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2009

WASHINGTON - Rep. Chris Van Hollen, flanked by a team of officials at a Tuesday news conference, trumpeted that President Obama's stimulus package is the relief that Maryland, and the country, needs "right now."

Prince George's Schools Superintendent William Hite and Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Jerry Weast joined Van Hollen in selling the stimulus package, formally named the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, as a panacea for employment woes.

The economic downturn is "deeper, steeper and (more) painful" than imagined, said Van Hollen, D-Kensington. "We're going to make sure (this money) hits the streets as quickly as possible."

With Maryland facing a $400 million shortfall this year and projecting a $1.9 billion deficit in 2010, advocates for education see the stimulus as a beacon of hope.

Prince George's students are "excelling" and "this is not the time to cut programs," said Hite, Prince George's interim superintendent.

With similar initiatives it can take years for schools to see the money, but with this package, the funds are immediately injected into the school system, Hite said.

Without Maryland's portion of the $825 billion stimulus, Prince George's, whose school system houses 130,000 students, will have to shoulder $35 million of the state's $66 million deficit burden. That would mean lost jobs and inevitably compromise the students' learning environment.

"Not one of the kids we have in school today caused this problem," said Weast. "This is the only time they have to get an education."

Also joining Van Hollen Tuesday were AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and Anna Burger, chairwoman of Change to Win, a consortium of unions.

Maryland should feel the legislation's impact in tax relief, job creation and "investment in key priorities, such as transportation and clean water infrastructure, development of new energy technologies and funding for education and school construction," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, said in a news release Tuesday.

If approved by Congress and signed by President Obama, Maryland stands to gain nearly $3.5 billion of relief including about $339 million injected into the school system, more than $2 million in tax cuts for residents and the retention of 100,000 Maryland jobs, according to Hoyer's news release.

The House is scheduled to vote on the stimulus package today.

For a state staring down the barrel of a vast and devastating deficit, Obama's stimulus seems to be the only solution.

As Weast said, "To people who don't want to support the package: What's the alternative?"

Copyright 2009 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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