Budget seen as unfair to city

Baltimore would get 1% increase, compared with 6% statewide

O'Malley is `hopeful'

More state funds sought through supplemental plan

January 31, 2000|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

Despite hopes that Baltimore with its new mayor would benefit from the state's record surplus, local officials are complaining that Gov. Parris N. Glendening's budget proposal has shortchanged the city.

Within a week of taking office last month, Mayor Martin O'Malley met with Glendening and asked for $200 million in additional aid. The two men emerged from the meeting saying they had the same priorities for Baltimore -- including an infusion of state money for schools and fighting crime.

But the city realized just a 1 percent increase in direct state aid in the budget Glendening sent to the General Assembly this month -- compared with a 6 percent increase statewide. Little of what O'Malley sought was included.

"There's a feeling of members of both the House and Senate from Baltimore City that the current budget has to be enhanced in order to address in a fair way the various needs of Baltimore City," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a city Democrat who chairs the Appropriations Committee.

O'Malley agreed.

"We have yet to see the sort of investment in Baltimore's future that will pay dividends for both the city and the state," he said.

The mayor asked for $50 million more in aid for schools, plus $25 million in special school construction funds, but neither was budgeted.

He sought a change in the formula that allots money to Maryland's poorest jurisdictions, which would yield $25 million for the city, but that was not addressed.

He requested $25 million for drug treatment, but found that the city must compete with the state's other jurisdictions for $10 million budgeted statewide.

Sharp letter

It is unclear how the city will ultimately fare. State officials say grant money is available to help Baltimore if the city applies for it, and the governor can include more money in a supplemental budget later in the 90-day legislative session.

They also note that under the proposal, the city gets about a quarter of the $3.2 billion in direct aid to the state's 24 jurisdictions.

But two influential Baltimore senators felt so strongly about Glendening's budget that Thursday they sent a sharply worded letter to the governor.

"In the midst of a year of plenty, Baltimore City is like the starving Little Match Girl, with her nose pressed up against the window of the grocery store," the Democratic senators wrote.

"The proprietor (Governor) is cheerfully doling out goodies to the mostly prosperous, while the destitute (Baltimore City) sinks further into despair."

The letter was signed by Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, who chairs the Budget and Taxation Committee, and Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, chairman of the city's Senate delegation.

Formula change sought

Underscoring O'Malley's earlier request, Hoffman and McFadden asked the governor for more money for schools and drug treatment and for a change in the formula for disparity grants to poor jurisdictions. The formula change is half of what O'Malley sought and would pump $12.3 million more into the city's operating budget.

Baltimore is facing a $31 million deficit in the fiscal year that begins July 1, an amount that is projected to balloon to $72 million in two years.

The senators met Friday with Glendening to discuss their concerns.

"They've agreed that they'll work together to ensure that Baltimore shares in the state's prosperity," said Michael Morrill, a Glendening spokesman.

Morrill said the administration has been working with O'Malley and his staff on the wish list presented to the governor last month.

Election-cycle blamed

Part of the problem for Baltimore stems from its off-cycle mayoral election, state officials said. By the time O'Malley was sworn in, the state was all but finished with the annual budget process, and the administration of his predecessor, Kurt L. Schmoke, had not asked for money before leaving office, they said.

O'Malley said he was "hopeful and optimistic" that Glendening would include more money for Baltimore in a supplemental budget.

"From the primary on, he's been telling me he wants to be part of the city's rebound, and I have no reason to doubt that," O'Malley said.

He said he was encouraged by Glendening's action Friday on the city's lead paint problem. The governor pledged $15.6 million over three years and other resources for lead cleanup and enforcement.

Morrill said Glendening intends to continue helping.

"We'll find common ground that allows us to invest in the future of Baltimore City and make sure we offer help to those who need it," he said.

O'Malley's budding relationship with Glendening offered hope to many that the city would do better than it had under Schmoke, who had all but stopped speaking with the governor because of their differences.

The governor attended O'Malley's inauguration and later heard out the mayor's request for more help. There seemed a chance that Glendening would commit a healthy portion of the surplus to address the cash-strapped city's problems. That possibility, however, seemed to dim with the release of the governor's budget.

`Pots of money'

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