O'Malley makes bid for aid from state

With budget deficit close to $21.4 million, he vows turnaround

March 07, 2001|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

With his city facing a $21.4 million deficit and having a continuing need for state support, Mayor Martin O'Malley went to Annapolis yesterday to assure the House Appropriations Committee that he has a plan for curing Baltimore's financial ills.

Although O'Malley offered several general suggestions, such as reducing the size of the city's vehicle fleet and improving efficiency, he had no definite answers for closing the gap in the budget for fiscal 2002, which begins July 1. By law, the city must have a balanced budget.

"How are we going to close that gap? We don't know yet," he said. "We have very few options."

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, committee chairman and a Baltimore Democrat, asked O'Malley to make the presentation. Rawlings wanted to give members of the budget committee a chance to hear the mayor's plans for the city, which depends on millions of dollars in state aid.

"I think his presentation was very effective," said Rawlings. "I think he impressed the members."

Before reviewing his plans for closing the budget gap, O'Malley outlined the challenge of bringing back a city that lost more than 100,000 residents and more than 60,000 jobs during the past 10 years. Past budgetary efforts balanced the city's books, but at the cost of uncompetitive pay for police officers, postponed investments in infrastructure and a deterioration in the quality of life.

"None of these things enabled us to rebound," he said. "A better quality of life is what's going to bring the city back."

He pointed to New Orleans and New York as cities that reaped huge benefits after waging campaigns to reduce crime. The same thing can happen in Baltimore, said O'Malley, who has made fighting crime the centerpiece of his agenda.

"This is our chance. This is our time," he told legislators. "But we still need state investments, and we need them now."

To close the budget gap, city officials are taking another look at cost-cutting measures offered by two business groups -- the Greater Baltimore Committee and the Presidents' Roundtable -- such as contracting out building security and custodial services to private companies.

O'Malley said he was reluctant to increase levies on energy and income because Baltimore is "taxed out" and has the state's highest property tax rate.

Committee members seemed generally satisfied with what O'Malley had to say. Rawlings even had to prod members of his committee to ask questions.

"I think it was a good presentation. It was a coherent plan for the city," Del. Robert L. Flanagan, a Howard County Republican, said after the meeting.

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