Lapides gleefully takes budget ax to newsletter fundsWhen...

State House Swirl

March 18, 1991|By From The Evening Sun's legislative bureau

Lapides gleefully takes budget ax to newsletter funds

When Maryland lawmakers turn their attention to balancing the state budget, the exercise can be grueling and thankless, particularly when economic times are tough and dollars are few.

But it can also be payback time, as the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee demonstrated during its work session on the Schaefer administration's proposed $11.6 billion 1992 budget.

Members of the prestigious and powerful committee were moving through the governor's budget like hungry locusts in a wheat field. Money had to be cut here, there and everywhere to bring the budget in line with revenues. It wasn't the happiest of committees, because many of the cuts would be painful.

But at least one senator had reason to smile when the panel came to the proposed allocations for the Department of Natural Resources. There, in the midst of big-dollar appropriations, was a little budget item noting that in past years the department has given $3,000 to help print a newsletter put together by volunteers on the state Forestry Board.

Nope, said Sen. Julian L. Lapides, D-City, the state can't afford that expense this year. Was Lapides' sentiment based solely on a sense of austerity? Hardly.

Last December, in an issue of the Forestry Board newsletter, Lapides was described as being "particularly arrogant and sarcastic" to board members when they appeared before a joint legislative committee looking at the DNR's timber sales program.

"That was an accurate description," noted Lapides, who nodded as the committee axed the appropriation from the budget.

Lottery confusion:

The state lottery agency thought it was being helpful last year when it started printing the phone number of a gambling hot line on the back of lottery tickets, along with the warning, "Compulsive gambling is a treatable illness." It hasn't worked out that way, however.

In the year before the gambling hot line began appearing on the tickets, 971 calls were received by the state-funded gambling hot line and were referred to Gamblers Anonymous and similar groups.

The number of calls jumped to nearly 12,000 last year after the number started appearing on lottery tickets, but only 1,324 were from people with gambling problems. The rest were from lottery players wanting to know the winning number.

"Unfortunately people are not reading the tickets carefully," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, D-City, vice chairwoman of the Senate Budget & Taxation Committee. "It ties the lines up so people with gambling problems can't get through."

The extra calls have also required a doubling of the hot line budget, or more than $18,000 beyond what had been expected over the last two fiscal years.

A spokesman for the lottery said the agency is considering adding information on the ticket to make clear the purpose of the gambling hot line and possibly adding to the ticket the correct phone number people can call to get the winning lottery numbers.

William the conqueror:

The Persian Gulf war has placed an immediate imprint upon our language. From the "mother of all metaphors" to "Scud attacks" the event has invaded daily conversation.

In Annapolis, lawmakers have gotten into the spirit with a new nickname for the Department of Fiscal Services, the budget arm of the legislature headed by William S. Ratchford 2nd. His analysts comb through budget requests like miserly conservatives, striking fear into the hearts of turf-defending bureaucrats like a phalanx of enemy soldiers.

The war-inspired nickname for the department? The Republican Guard, of course.

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