The state of Maryland, facing a projected $300 million deficit next year and ordering government departments to trim all "fat" from their budgets, spent more than $50,000 Sunday to sponsor and lavishly entertain guests at a horse race at Pimlico.
Not everyone is happy about it.
"Ludicrous and outrageous" is what Lance Cornine, executive director of the Maryland Classified Employees Association, which represents 28,000 state workers, said yesterday about the state's expenditure to sponsor "The State of Maryland Distaff Handicap" as part of the Maryland Million program.
"A real insult to our employees, who might be facing layoffs, at a time when every penny [in the state budget] counts," said Bill Bolander, executive director of AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents about 10,000 workers. "That $50,000 could pay the salaries for three state employees."
It is the sixth year the state has contributed a royalty fee of $50,000 and joined private corporations in sponsoring the one-day racing card designed to promote thoroughbred horse breeding in the state.
The state already contributes approximately $4.8 million annually state breeders in the form of subsidies to Maryland-
bred horses. Additionally, six years ago, the state reduced its share of the betting dollar from 4.09 to one half of 1 percent, pumping millions more into the tracks and horsemen's accounts for improvements, promotions and purses.
But the Maryland Million funding is money well spent, said Mark Wasserman, the newly appointed secretary of the Department of Economic and Employment Development.
"I would hope people would take the broad view and see that we have to market the state and its industries and create interest in them," said Wasserman, whose agency, through its sports promotion bureau, provides the funding to sponsor the race. "Horse breeding and racing is a vital industry in this state. You have to spend money to make money."
The $50,000 the state contributes for the race helps defray expenses, including the purse if necessary, to put on the $100,000 race. For its money, DEED is provided a spot in the swank tented village in the Pimlico infield reserved for the sponsors. Additional expenses include catering fees, "which have not yet been totaled," said Mike Marqua, director of DEED's sportspromotion bureau.
On Sunday, 125 guests of the state government, including state employees, members of the legislature and business associates, were wined and dined as they listened to music from the George Hipp Orchestra, could stroll nearby to conveniently placed betting windows or watched the races from the infield rail.
They consumed a lunch of crab cakes, Maryland tomatoes baked in mozzarella cheese and basil, fajitas, corn pudding, biscuits, a Maryland vegetable medley and for dessert, carrot cake and fruit, prepared by the Cameo Caterers of Baltimore. Theywere also treated to an open bar as well as a display of wines provided by Maryland vintners.
"It's all well and good to protect horse racing and the industry's employees," said Joel Dan Lehman, president of the Maryland Classified Employees Association. "I can understand it when the economy is flush. But now there are thousands of people out on the street, hungry and homeless, companies like USF&G, Maryland National Bank, Sears and Roebuck, the airlines, are all laying off employees. The state is considering laying off thousands of its workers, county governments are endangered in losing state shared revenues, and what is the Schaefer administration doing? Sponsoring a horse race? We have a problem in this state and that is a problem of wrong priorities."
Rich Wilcke, executive director of the Maryland Million, said the state's involvement is imperative for the health of the program. -- "It is much more significant than just putting up $50,000," he said. "They actively endorse the program, defend it and have a tent. Sunday we had the governor and lieutenant governor and present trophies, we had the secretary of DEED present a trophy as well as the director of the 'Maryland You Are Beautiful' program. There were assistant secretaries at the races. It's become pretty much an 'All Maryland' day and we even kind of wrap the event around the state flag."
TH Ironically, Safely Kept, the winner of the State of Maryland Distaff
Handicap, and the accompanying purse monies went to out-of-state connections. The mare was ridden by a California jockey and is owned and trained in New Jersey, although she was bred in Maryland and her sire, Horatius, stands at stud in Chestertown.
The manager of the Horatius syndicate, however, is ambivalent about the Maryland Million's success and is considering withdrawing his stallion next year because he sees few benefits to the program.