Car insurance coalition trying to raise $60,000

December 09, 1992|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Staff Writer

A group that has been pushing for more than two years for creation of a publicly owned, non-profit firm to insure Baltimore drivers has launched a fund-raising effort to pay for marketing and business studies.

"We've been trying to get the mechanism together to raise the money we need," Councilman Melvin L. Stukes, D-6th, who is leading the fund-raising effort for the Citywide Insurance Coalition, said yesterday. "It took us so long to get to this point."

Mr. Stukes said the coalition began mailing fund-raising letters this week to businesses and charitable groups to raise the $60,000 it needs to pay for its share of the studies.

The contributions will be accepted through the Baltimore City Foundation, an organization that supports civic causes.

The coalition, whose membership includes 169 community organizations, faces a year-end deadline for raising $30,000 of the amount, but so far it has collected only $1,700, Mr. Stukes said.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke imposed the deadline as a condition for the city contributing $25,000 for the studies. But organizers -- and a source in the mayor's office -- say the deadline could be extended.

The mayor promised another $25,000 if the coalition can raise another $30,000 by the spring.

In August, the city put up $50,000 for an actuarial study that is scheduled to be completed next week. The city also paid $26,000 to help fund a study that found the coalition's plan for an insurance company was feasible.

For more than two years, the coalition has been working to form an insurance company. Coalition members said the firm could eventually lead to savings of hundreds of dollars a year for city drivers who now pay the highest automobile insurance rates in Maryland.

Insurance companies say city drivers pay more because the insurers experience more losses in Baltimore than elsewhere in this area. But critics say insurance rates should be tied more closely to a person's driving record.

The city has contributed to the coalition's efforts, but Mr. Schmoke says he thinks the insurance firm can not exist without continuing financial support from the city.

Schmoke said he funded the actuarial study because it can aid Baltimore's efforts to lobby the Maryland General Assembly to outlaw "territorial rating," a practice that pegs insurance rates to the area where a driver lives.

Mr. Schmoke's position has left at least one coalition official fuming.

"The mayor has unnecessarily delayed our efforts for 27 months," said A. Robert Kaufman, a longtime activist, sometimes political candidate and president of the coalition. "Here, the mayor is trying to make us jump through hoops for $60,000."

Mr. Kaufman is also angry with Mr. Stukes and other City Council members whom he accuses of not doing enough to pressure the mayor to fully fund the studies needed to get the company off the ground.

"Melvin Stukes has sabotaged our efforts to get the council to help us sweat this out of the mayor," Mr. Kaufman said.

But Mr. Stukes and others involved in automobile insurance reform say Mr. Kaufman is one of the problems.

"Bob has steadfastly refused to help raise money," Mr. Stukes said. "He says the mayor should be funding the entire thing."

Councilman Martin O'Malley, D-3rd, who is helping to oversee the effort to obtain lower insurance rates for city motorists, said he is satisfied with the progress that has been made.

"We were able to move the mayor off the dime on this," Mr. O'Malley said. "This is called politics. This is how we move ahead on these things. But Bob just wouldn't ease up."

"As far as I am concerned, [we] have met every request of CWIC to the best of our ability and despite political odds," said Council President Mary Pat Clarke.

"We will see the CWIC studies through to completion, and we will make those studies available to all comers."

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