Bread and peanuts in Annapolis

January 12, 1993

Bread-and-butter issues as well as peanuts are on the plate of Baltimore City's legislative delegation in Annapolis as the General Assembly convenes tomorrow.

Among the peanuts are technical changes in the law that would prohibit the carrying of rifles and shotguns in the city (yes, according to the law, that's legal!) and authorize civilian traffic enforcement officers to issue penalties to violators. Today, it seems, many motorists obey them without quite realizing those officers, despite their uniforms, are about as powerful as scarecrows!

Chief among the bread-and-butter items is the city's effort to increase incrementally the formula under which much state aid flows to Baltimore and the five poorest rural counties in Maryland.

The revenue-sharing formula and the "disparity" grant program were approved just last year after a heavy political struggle. But like so many other state expenditures, the "disparity" grant program was almost immediately pared down because of Maryland's higher-than-anticipated budget deficit.

If an economic recovery takes hold this year, tax revenues may begin increasing in many jurisdictions. Baltimore City, however, is not likely to experience any meaningful increases.

It weathered the recession relatively painlessly, but may also turn out to be recovery-proof. The city is still losing jobs, middle-class property owners and business. If anything, the city is getting poorer: some 18 percent of city residents are on public assistance. It is for reasons like these that the city is continuing its long-term goal of having the state assume the cost of two expensive legal bureaucracies, the badly overburdened Circuit Court and the similarly swamped state's attorney's office. If they were taken over by the state, the city would save about $19 million yearly.

Also among the city's priorities are such fiscal items as increased aid to public education and expansion of the Convention Center, a key engine of Baltimore's tourism and convention business which is no longer big enough to compete with other cities. Other bills intend to limit the weight of geography in determining automobile insurance rates, which are far higher in Baltimore City than in any other jurisdiction.

Baltimore's fiscal priorities may be targeted by wrathful Montgomery County legislators who feel the city weaseled out of deals it made during last year's session. But fight and compromise are always the name of the game in Annapolis.

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