County won't accede to Rawlings, raise Hippodrome funding

Lawmaker's threat fails as council holds budget for theater to $250,000

May 23, 2000|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County's next budget will contain $250,000 for renovations to a historic theater in Baltimore, as a threat from an influential state lawmaker who wanted the funding doubled has backfired.

Council Chairman Joseph Bartenfelder ordered the county's $1.79 billion spending plan for 2000-2001 to be printed yesterday without acceding to a request from Del. Howard P. Rawlings that money for the Hippodrome Theater be increased to $500,000 this year and next.

In a letter Thursday, Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat, said that if the county did not raise its contribution to the project, which is considered critical to the city's west-side renewal, "I will have no qualms in seeking to delay or disapprove projects of mutual benefit to Baltimore City and Baltimore County."

As chairman of the House appropriations committee, Rawlings wields considerable authority in the state budget process and has supported county projects in the past. But his warning had the opposite effect of what was intended.

"I feel that the independence of the council needs to remain that way -- independent," Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat, said yesterday. "We can't get boxed into a corner."

Councilman Stephen G. Sam Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat, called Rawlings' threat "absolutely disgusting" and said the letter sabotaged a behind-the-scenes effort by County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger to fulfill Rawlings' wishes. "Thursday night, they had the votes," Moxley said. "After they read the [newspaper] article on Friday, they withdrew their votes."

Bartenfelder's decision was the culmination of a weekend of lobbying by Ruppersberger and his top aides that fell short.

Rawlings wrote a second letter Friday attempting to clarify his first. "My remarks in yesterday's letter and The Sun paper, which may be considered intemperate by Council members, were a reaction to my strong support of regional cooperation," Rawlings wrote. "But my remarks do not undercut my unwavering respect for the independence of the Baltimore County Council."

The second letter didn't change the council members' minds.

"We should be able to make decisions without threats," said Councilman Kevin B. Kamenetz, a Democrat who represents Pikesville and Randallstown.

The $56 million Hippodrome project has been spearheaded by the Greater Baltimore Committee and its director, Donald P. Hutchinson, a former Baltimore County executive. About six months ago, Hutchinson secured the agreement of Baltimore County Council members to contribute $500,000 to the project over two years.

Rawlings learned that use of the theater is expected to mirror that of the Mechanic Theatre, which draws 60 percent of its patrons from the county.

In Annapolis this year, Rawlings asked for a $1 million contribution from Baltimore County, based on those projections. Ruppersberger agreed but did not tell the council of his plans. Last week, council members voted to reverse the executive's commitment, returning to the original $250,000 a year for two years.

Still angry yesterday, Rawlings repeated the challenge issued in the first letter. "We had a major commitment on a regional project," he said. "I respect their decision, and I assume they respect what I will do in promoting regionalism in the future."

Robert J. Barrett, a top Ruppersberger aide, said the executive probably will try to build consensus for a larger contribution next year.

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