Expectations lowered too much?

January 13, 1994

In the pork-barrel world of politics, one has to demand to receive. For that reason, it strikes us as odd that the Schmoke administration is going to the 1994 session of the General Assembly without the kind of wish list that politicians expect and can relate to. That may not leave much room for wheeling and dealing.

This is particularly odd since it is William Donald Schaefer's final year as governor. Next year will bring a new non-city governor.

The Schmoke administration argues that it decided to avoid big-ticket items this year because it does not think the state has enough money to grant them. Instead it is concentrating on a number of legislative initiatives which, if passed, could make a difference in city life. The main themes are crime and AIDS.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's No. 1 priority is to win legislative authorization for Baltimore to start a needle exchange program. The justification is that the leading cause of new HIV infection in Baltimore is not homosexual contacts but rather the use of infected syringes by injection drug users.

A strategy to remove dirty needles from among addicts might address the human, social and economic cost of the spread of AIDS but Mayor Schmoke acknowledges that it will take "a great deal of lobbying." He hopes that if such a staunch opponent as Governor Schafer was able to change his heart, a sufficient number of legislators also might end their hostility to the needle exchange program. It is an uphill fight.

Also on the Schmoke administration's General Assembly agenda are:

* An array of measures to tighten gun control laws. The city had a record number of homicides last year, including numerous fatal shootings of innocent bystanders.

* Efforts to increase state education spending, including a program that would allow schools with a high percentage of poor students to apply for state grants. While this was recommended by a gubernatorial commission, it seems questionable whether the state has money to fund the idea.

The state's $350 million capital budget is separate from the operating budget of more than $12 billion. But it is expected to be too tight for major proposals benefiting the city.

However, Baltimore legislators will be asked to authorize some $35 million in city bonds. The allocation of that money is highly competitive among many deserving city projects. Stay tuned.

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