Mayor Martin O'Malley assailed Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend yesterday for failing to provide $8 million in new drug treatment money promised to the city earlier this year.
O'Malley's first public criticism of the state's top officials came during an impromptu news conference after the city Board of Estimates meeting. The mayor attacked what he called the state's lack of financial support for drug treatment in a city recently named by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency as the nation's leader in per-capita heroin use.
"It is unconscionable that the state with the most wealth in the nation would allow this addiction to go on," he said. "I'm getting tired of it already, and I'm only 10 months into my term."
Three hours later, O'Malley assembled 25 business, church and community leaders at City Hall, asking them to help him lobby the state for $25 million more in treatment money next year, when the General Assembly convenes in January.
Those actions seem to indicate a change in strategy in dealing with the state and signals that the mayor is willing to launch an all-out campaign to try to shame the state's highest elected officials into providing more money to help alleviate the city drug epidemic.
O'Malley had asked Glendening for $25 million more than the budgeted $10 million during this year's legislative session. The governor included $8 million more for city drug treatment. When the legislature approved the budget in April, it put accountability restrictions on release of that money.
State officials, including those in Glendening's office, said yesterday that the $8 million is scheduled to be released by tomorrow and that O'Malley's latest outburst showed a lack of knowledge of the state budget process.
"The governor and the General Assembly put into regulation that programs be reviewed, to make sure that this new infusion of money would be spent wisely," said Michael E. Morrill, the governor's spokesman. Overall, he said, state funding for local drug treatment programs increased 61 percent this year to $65.6 million statewide.
But O'Malley said that explanation, four months into Maryland's fiscal year, had done little to dissuade him from believing that a state with a $350 million budget surplus has not done all it can to help reduce a city crisis that is also blamed for fueling one of the highest murder rates in the country.
In criticizing the state, O'Malley singled out Townsend, chairwoman of Maryland's Drug Treatment Task Force. The task force had asked that city drug programs be audited before release of the $8 million, city officials said.
Townsend issued a statement in response yesterday, saying that she was proud of being part of "the largest drug treatment funding increase in state history."
Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a key O'Malley supporter who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said yesterday that he understood the mayor's frustration over the funding delay.
But Rawlings, a West Baltimore Democrat, echoed others in saying that O'Malley did not understand the state budget process.
"The mayor is anxious about drug treatment, and he has been advised that the money is not available because the lieutenant governor's task force wanted to review drug treatment spending - which we support," Rawlings said.
The legislature agreed to require that all jurisdictions receiving drug-treatment money provide detailed reports on how they intended to use it. Although the city's report went to the state in June, state officials had to assemble reports from other jurisdictions receiving money before releasing the funds, Rawlings said.
"He doesn't understand fully the state budget process," he said.
O'Malley disagreed with that assessment. What he knows, he said, is that no new state drug treatment money has found its way to the city seven months after the state budget was approved in April.
"I understand the budget process," O'Malley said. "What I don't know is why I'm getting jerked around for seven months."
Earlier this year, Glendening questioned the effectiveness of city treatment programs - saying that, despite increased funding over the past four years, the number of the city's estimated 60,000 addicts has failed to decline.
The city spends about $26 million annually on 42 treatment programs, double what it spent four years ago. Most of the increased spending has come from city funds and private foundations.
About 6,600 city treatment slots are available, serving as many as 18,000 people a year. The new money would add about 2,000 slots, allowing 6,000 more people to be treated, city officials said.