Bill to have state share local court costs dies STATE HOUSE REPORT

April 07, 1995|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,Sun Staff Writer

A House committee yesterday killed a bill that would have required the state to absorb some of the local cost of the circuit court system -- a top priority for Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

The House Appropriations Committee voted 17-3 to defeat the measure, which would have forced the state to pay for the jury system, court interpreters, courthouse security and judicial masters.

"We had great concerns because of the substantial costs," said Del. Thomas E. Dewberry, D-Baltimore County, who chaired the subcommittee that handled the bill. "We didn't want to rush into it."

The legislation, which was based on the recommendation of a gubernatorial task force, would have cost the state $100,000 this year and up to $14.4 million in four years under a phase-in arrangement. Baltimore would have received about a quarter of that amount.

The Appropriations Committee vote came two days after Gov. Parris N. Glendening told legislative leaders that the state could not afford several bills that were still pending in the General Assembly.

At a private meeting Tuesday, the governor singled out the courts bill as one example of about 15 bills that would end up costing the state $90 million in either new spending or revenue losses by the 1999 fiscal year. Mr. Glendening asked the leaders to put off action on bills with a total price tag of about $40 million.

The defeat was a blow to Mr. Schmoke, who had counted on passage of the legislation as a key to removing the city's tax on beverage bottles and cans this year. After hearing the news, Mr. Schmoke, a political ally of Mr. Glendening, called the governor Wednesday asking him to reconsider his request to legislative leaders, but to no avail.

"We recognize the state's tight financial problems," said Clinton R. Coleman, Mr. Schmoke's press secretary. "All that we were asking for is a modest down payment on the entire process -- that is, that the state assume the cost of certain court-related functions, and then eventually the [entire cost of] circuit courts."

Although the bill would have affected circuit courts statewide, Baltimore would have been the biggest beneficiary. An eventual full takeover of the circuit courts would mean about $6 million to the city.

Mr. Coleman said the mayor called Mr. Glendening as a representative of the so-called "Big Seven" -- the city and the six largest counties -- which met Wednesday in Annapolis. "All of us expressed concern that the administration seemed to be backing away from the state takeover of certain circuit court related functions," Mr. Coleman quoted the mayor as saying.

Frederick W. Puddester, one of the governor's deputy chiefs of staff, said Mr. Glendening asked legislators not to pass some of the bills because of the need to pare down government in the face of anticipated federal cutbacks and to accommodate a future income-tax cut.

Mr. Puddester said Mr. Glendening planned on meeting with local leaders over the summer to present his ideas for adjusting the formula for state aid to local governments, with the intent of reducing it.

That aid has been increasing at a faster rate than the growth of the state budget, which is tied to the growth of the state economy, he said.

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