Governor supports set-aside for city's poor Proposal to earmark part of surplus is payback for BUILD election aid

December 05, 1998|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Moving to repay a political debt, Gov. Parris N. Glendening said last night that he will propose in his budget that part of the state's surplus be set aside to sustain programs for the urban poor through future economic downturns.

Glendening called the idea -- dubbed the "Joseph Fund" by its supporters -- "probably one of the most innovative public policy ideas to come forth in a good many years." He did not give a specific figure, saying budget officials were still working on the specifics.

The governor made the announcement at a jubilant gathering of the church-affiliated organization Baltimoreans United for Leadership Development. BUILD ran the most visible get-out-the-vote operation in Baltimore, where increased voter turnout in the overwhelmingly Democratic city contributed to Glendening's 55 percent-45 percent win over Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey.

Last night, the governor showed up to say thank you and to deliver on promises he made before the election.

"We intend to honor those commitments," he said.

He singled out BUILD's proposal of a Joseph Fund -- a permanent endowment that would protect programs for the poor from budget cuts in leaner times.

Alyssa Glassman, a BUILD spokeswoman, said the idea is based on the biblical story of Joseph, who was summoned by the pharaoh to interpret a dream of seven fat cows eating seven lean cows. Joseph said it meant that Egypt would enjoy seven years of prosperity, to be followed by seven years of starvation, and urged the pharaoh to set aside 20 percent of each crop for the future.

Glendening said he was not proposing that Maryland set aside )) 20 percent of its surplus -- just that it start such a program.

"The Bible is a guide for doing right. Scripture is not necessarily literally interpreted," the governor said.

BUILD officials said last night that their efforts brought an estimated 2,700 more voters to the polls in 1998 than in 1994, despite a dramatic drop in the city's population.

While those votes turned out to be a small part of Glendening's 158,000-vote victory margin, BUILD's efforts helped energize the Democratic effort in the city, where Glendening won 81 percent of the ballots cast.

BUILD could not formally endorse the governor because of its nonprofit tax status, but the organization aggressively spread the word that Glendening supported its urban-oriented agenda while Sauerbrey refused its invitations to appear at its events.

Glendening did not discuss budget items last night, but before the election he endorsed several specific proposals on BUILD's wish list:

$35 million a year over the next four years for Baltimore school construction.

$2.5 million a year for four years for parks and recreation improvements in the city.

$500,000 per year for the Child First Authority -- a BUILD-sponsored after-school program.

A doubling of homeownership programs for lower-income Marylanders from $7.5 million a year to $15 million.

Pub Date: 12/05/98

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