Bringing Home the (City) Bacon

April 14, 1993

Esskay may have shut down its meat-processing plant in town, but Baltimore's legislative delegation to Annapolis did its part to compensate by bringing home a big slice of bacon from the just-concluded General Assembly session. A total of $47 million in new aid will be coming to City Hall, plus an array of expensive construction projects that are vital to the city's future.

Of the new money, nearly half will go to education. Aid formulas that favor impoverished schools will help the city receive $21 million. And there will be at least $5.2 million to renovate or build anew city schools. There is also extra money to expand the pre-kindergarten initiative, the Maryland Tomorrow dropout program and a gifted and talented program for Baltimore's citywide high schools.

City lobbyists were especially pleased with the legislature's willingness to fund fully a disparity grant that had been pared back last year because of the recession. The aim is to partially offset stagnant income tax bases in Maryland's poorest subdivisions. For the city, $30 million will be available in July, up from $18 million in 1992.

State lawmakers also recognized the need to fight violent crime with more money for foot patrol grants and other law-enforcement efforts. This money won't solve the problem, but it will give city police better tools with which to fight crime.

Foremost among the city's construction projects approved in Annapolis is the $150 million convention center. Agile work by city lawmakers avoided disaster after Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke objected strenuously to last-minute amendments. In the end, Mr. Schmoke could claim victory, though it cost the city millions in future long-term state operating assistance. The important thing is that the convention center now will be doubled in size, creating more business for area hotels and restaurants, a boom for the tourist trade and a big payoff for city and state tax coffers.

There were some defeats for the city along the way, such as the mayor's proposal to run a needle-exchange program for drug addicts. But lawmakers were able to water down an attempt to hold back $5 million in state aid from city schools unless a consultant's recommendations are implemented. They also won local authority to ban liquor ads on billboards in the city.

All in all, it was a remarkable year for city legislators. They gained broad support from their colleagues. Even hot rhetoric from Montgomery County legislators didn't amount to much of a threat. Lawmakers seemed to have a much better understanding of Baltimore's enormous needs, and of the state's role in trying to ameliorate deep-seated urban problems.

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