A good legislative session in Annapolis for...


April 20, 1996

IT WAS NOT a good legislative session in Annapolis for Baltimore City or for Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. For much of the 90 days, Mr. Schmoke found himself on the defensive as perennial Baltimore bashers were joined even by city lawmakers harshly critical of the city's feeble efforts to reform its schools and put its tourism house in order.

City setbacks were as numerous as successes. A bill to spur industrial development by encouraging removal of toxic wastes from abandoned manufacturing sites ran into environmental opposition. The governor's plan to phase in a takeover of city circuit court costs died in conference. A favorable transportation formula was weakened, costing the city tens of millions of dollars in future years.

And $24 million in school aid is being held captive until the mayor gets serious about overhauling school management. (Legislators also cut the pay of top school leaders they blame for the city's abysmal education performance.)

But the mayor's woes didn't end there. His decision to boost the city hotel room tax to the highest on the East Coast infuriated lawmakers, who worry that this could destroy Baltimore's convention business. So legislators blocked the tax hike and cobbled together a stop-gap plan to give convention promotion a major lift -- for one year. By then, the mayor had better have a permanent solution. If not, he risks an even nastier scene in Annapolis.

Yet not all was bleak for the city. Money for a $200 million Camden Yards football stadium was approved. The first $5 million installment on a key Juvenile Justice Center got the go-ahead. There was bond money for the Children's Museum, zoo, Johns Hopkins Hospital -- even the Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

The city also gained four more circuit court judges, which should help reduce the backlog of criminal and civil cases. But this wasn't free: It will cost the city $100,000 in operating expenses next year, $260,000 each year thereafter and nearly $2 million in capital expenses.

In the interim before the 1997 General Assembly session, the mayor ought to analyze what went wrong. He did not have much luck convincing lawmakers that his administration will use money wisely. That lack of trust could turn into a major impediment for the city. This is something Mr. Schmoke must guard against.

Pub Date: 4/20/96

Tough times for city in Annapolis; Defensive stance: Pressure from legislature for mayor to take the lead on schools, tourism.

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