Understanding City Problems

April 20, 1994

Bashing Baltimore City has often been an easy way for suburban legislators to make waves, particularly in election years. However, this year they resisted that easy temptation. In a remarkable demonstration of open-mindedness and experimentation, they approved Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's request that Baltimore be allowed to see whether a needle exchange program will reduce the spread of AIDS.

Baltimore City's population of 730,000 people includes an estimated 30,000 heroin addicts and 10,000 cocaine addicts. Many share syringes. As a result, Baltimore is one of four American cities where AIDS is the leading cause of death among people ages 25 through 44.

At this year's General Assembly session, Mr. Schmoke decided to forego his usual requests for costly new funding authorizations. Instead he concentrated on the needle exchange proposal, knowing how controversial it could be. This strategy paid off as many vocal opponents of the needle exchange proposal grudgingly decided to give it a chance.

In general, the legislature took a sympathetic view of city FTC requests by approving a number of tax credit bills.

The General Assembly also approved either grants or matching funds for a number of projects that will enhance Baltimore's tourist areas and neighborhoods.

Here are just some examples of the 19 local pork-barrel funding projects granted for Baltimore City: The Baltimore Museum of Industry, near Locust Point, got $600,000 toward its expansion; the new Babe Ruth Baseball Center at Camden Station got $850,000. Civic Works, the community service program, got $200,000 to renovate its headquarters mansion at Clifton Park; the old No. 2 branch of the Enoch Pratt Library at Union Square got $125,000, and a South Baltimore real estate broker's dream to develop a museum of immigration got $50,000.

Major grants were channeled to the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore Museum of Art, Center Stage, Franciscan Center and St. Elizabeth School and Rehabilitation Center.

Baltimore County, by comparison, received only one pork barrel grant -- $500,000 to be used toward converting the old Pikes Theatre in Pikesville into a performing arts center.

The city did not ask for extravagant projects in Annapolis this year. It still did quite well.

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