Schmoke suggests 10-cent surcharge on lottery tickets $19 million is sought to buy police equipment, fight crime

March 12, 1991|By Martin C. Evans

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, feeling political heat from a rising homicide rate and a wave of armed robberies, proposed yesterday a 10-cent surcharge on lottery tickets sold in Baltimore to raise money to upgrade the Police Department's crime-fighting ability.

"I think people want to feel safe," Mr. Schmoke said. "The pressure that I'm feeling, if anything, is the perception that [Baltimore] is an unsafe place not only to live but to do business and for tourism."

In a luncheon meeting with reporters and editors at The Baltimore Sun, the mayor said the lottery surcharge -- which would bring the cost of a lottery ticket sold in the city to $1.10 -- would yield $19 million in revenues. This money, Mr. Schmoke said, would be spent on modernizing the Police Department by improving antiquated equipment and investigative procedures and by better preserving evidence to be used in prosecutions.

"We need to do some serious work at upgrading the department," Mr. Schmoke said, referring to police equipment.

The lottery surcharge would require approval of the state legislature, and Mr. Schmoke said he planned to discuss his idea in detail with members of Baltimore's delegation to the General Assembly.

But legislators said the suggestion, which follows a request by City Hall earlier this year for $4 million to fill 104 police vacancies, had little chance of success. Some said privately that the request would be dead on arrival.

"Obviously, the inertia is against it," said Delegate Kenneth C. Montague Jr., D-Baltimore. "There are 23 other counties out there who would like to have the same thing."

Assembly members, already struggling to overcome the effects of a revenue shortfall on the state budget, said they feared a surcharge on lottery tickets could slow sales, cutting into the roughly $811 million per year the lottery brings to the state treasury.

"The problem is that a surcharge is going to be a major disincentive for people to buy a lottery ticket," said Delegate Howard P. Rawlings, D-Baltimore, who said he would give the mayor's proposal careful consideration, nonetheless.

The mayor also would have to overcome a traditional reluctance of the General Assembly to link revenue sources directly with specific programs. Usually, the General Assembly prefers to retain the flexibility of putting revenues into the general fund, which it can then control through legislative appropriations.

Mr. Schmoke himself acknowledged that the proposal "may not fly" but said sweeping changes in the technology used to investigate crimes were needed if the city was to have a chance of coping with its crime rate.

"I'm going to try to sell it as a notion that here's a way to help ourselves protect ourselves," Mr. Schmoke said of the lottery surcharge idea.

The proposal comes amid an alarming uptrend in the Baltimore homicide rate. There have already been about 60 homicides in Baltimore this year, a rate slightly ahead of last year, which was itself one of the worst years for homicides in the past decade.

In addition, the metropolitan area has been reeling from a series of armed robberies committed by a gang or gangs using shotguns and making an overwhelming display of force. Although as many of these holdups have been in the suburbs as in the city, the mayor said yesterday the robbery spree was adding to the impression that Baltimore was unsafe.

"The nature of crime is changing, and we need to put more officers out there," said Mr. Schmoke, who served two terms as Baltimorestate's attorney before being elected mayor in 1987.

The lottery has long been opposed by some black community leaders and clergymen because of its popularity in low-income and working-class areas. Mr. Schmoke acknowledged yesterday that he would probably face some opposition from the city's ministers but said he thought most would understand his ultimate aim.

"My sense is that if people know it is going for police, it will gain acceptance," he said. ". . . I believe a lot of people who play the lottery are in moderate- and low-income areas, and that's exactly where we need more protection."

Clinton R. Coleman, the mayor's press secretary, said Mr. Schmoke's goal was to give Baltimore "the best-equipped police department in the country."

For example, he said, the Police Department evidence room needs to be computerized. Currently, thousands of pieces of evidence that arrive there each month must be cataloged by hand.

He said among the mayor's other requests would be on-board computers for police cruisers, new weapons and a new crime lab.

A spokesman for the State Lottery Agency, Carroll H. Hynson Jr., said that lottery machines could be programmed to accommodate a 10-cent surcharge on ticket sales in the city. However, the spokesman said, the governor's office was not familiar with the mayor's proposal and would not comment.

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