City on the Defensive in Annapolis

January 14, 1993

When the General Assembly convened in Annapolis yesterday, Baltimore City's legislative delegation found itself faced with a tough assignment.

Its members want to recover the considerable gains the city made last year in state assistance -- before the money increases were obliterated in the state's deep cuts to local aid. At the same time, the delegation has to tread carefully so as not to have the key convention center expansion and other initiatives torpedoed by Montgomery County legislators still angry over last fall's elimination of state payments of local Social Security contributions for teachers and librarians.

"We are not asking for more money. We will be on the defensive in actuality," says John Pica, who leads the city's Senate delegation.

When last year's session ended in Annapolis, Baltimore City seemed to have done better than in any other year recently. A particular coup was the passage of a "disparity grant" to redistribute tax revenue from wealthier sections of the state to the five poorest rural counties and impoverished Baltimore City.

For a city that had been complaining about losing the earnings of workers fleeing to their suburban homes at night, such an arrangement seemed to offer the benefits of a commuter tax without its many political curses. But the excitement was short-lived. Some of the manna from heaven never came as the state wielded a budget ax to reduce its enormous budget deficit.

The redistribution formula remains intact, however. And Baltimore City's legislative efforts this year center on getting it increased incrementally so that disparities of wealth across the state would be erased even further.

Meanwhile, the city is resuming its long-term legislative aim of getting the state to assume the costs of two legal bureaucracies: the state's attorney's office and the Circuit Court. The city argues that both offices are mandated by the Maryland Constitution. If the state took them over, the city could chalk up an immediate annual saving of $19 million. The bill's chances are slim.

The city is also seeking legislation to increase state aid for public education in the poorest jurisdictions. No one believes this long-sought goal will be reached this year. A bill to limit the weight of geography in determining automobile insurance rates -- which are disproportionately high in Baltimore City -- is not expected to fare any better.

For Baltimore, this could be a trying year.

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