City's Skimpy Legislative Wish List

January 17, 1994

In years past, Baltimore City has usually gone to Annapolis begging for lots of expensive projects. Not this year. The price tags of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's wish list to the General Assembly seem outright puny. Instead of costly projects, the city seeks to address such complex concerns as crime and AIDS, which the mayor ranks as the worst problems threatening Baltimore.

"I don't think it is a modest agenda, given that the No. 1 priority is the AIDS prevention program," Mr. Schmoke says, noting that Baltimore is among four cities in the country where AIDS is the leading cause of death for people ages 25 to 44. He wants the General Assembly to authorize a needle-exchange program so that the spread of the HIV virus among addicts could be slowed.

Another Schmoke administration priority is to strengthen gun control laws. The city, after all, accounts for most of Maryland's homicides. As drug-generated gun violence has increased, many innocent bystanders have died in the crossfire. This, in turn, has spawned an atmosphere of helplessness and insecurity throughout the city.

Neither of these broad areas of concern is likely to produce easy legislative victories.

Lawmakers eye the city's needle-exchange request warily. Some argue: Why spend public funds on a measure that might make drug use seem safer than it is, perhaps increasing its attraction? The fact that such a staunch opponent as Gov. William Donald Schaefer changed his mind about the wisdom of needle exchange gives the Schmoke administration optimism that other politicians might be persuaded to support the program.

Efforts to strengthen gun laws will produce determined opposition, as they have before.

In years past, Baltimore City has repeatedly sought state takeover of the court system and state's attorney's office. These so far unsuccessful requests have been dropped from the city's agenda this year because Governor Schaefer has promised to appoint a commission to study those judicial functions statewide. "That's probably as good as we can get this year," says Henry W. Bogdan, a city lobbyist.

This modesty in city requests is predicated on the belief that the state will have little money this year. That may prove to be true.

But it is equally true that politicians seldom volunteer to give anything that was not expressly demanded. Asking for too little may be the flaw in the city's strategy.

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