Assembly smiles on city as O'Malley learns lessons

Funding increased for drug treatment, schools, prosecution

April 11, 2001|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Mayor Martin O'Malley was an effective lobbyist in Annapolis this legislative session, winning more than $18 million next year for his "Digital Harbor" economic development program that will help complete the city's gap-ridden and crumbling waterfront boardwalk.

This money was on top of an $8 million increase in state aid for drug treatment programs, $55 million more for city schools and a $500,000 increase to help the state's attorney's office prosecute homicides and gun crimes.

"The city did very well this year," said state Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat and head of the Budget and Taxation Committee. "Last year was a learning year for the new O'Malley administration, but this year it all clicked because they had clear goals."

FOR THE RECORD - A Page 1A story yesterday misstated the total amount of money Baltimore will receive from the state for drug treatment programs in fiscal 2002. The correct total is $41 million.
The Sun regrets the error.

Overall, the city will receive a 4.6 percent boost in state assistance for the fiscal year beginning July 1, with its state revenues growing $38 million to a total of $820 million, according to Jeanne D. Hitchcock, deputy mayor for intergovernmental affairs.

Last year, the city received only a 1 percent increase, in part because O'Malley came into office relatively late in the budget process and came across as ill-prepared and impatient to some legislators.

This year, the city was better organized. Last fall O'Malley unveiled an ambitious, five-year "Digital Harbor" initiative meant to transform the city's economy from one based on industry and tourism to one that includes a rising number of technology-based businesses.

The "Digital Harbor" plan seeks to make the city more attractive to high-tech firms and other businesses by building waterfront promenades, bulkheads, parks and roads that improve the quality of life in the city, not just on the Inner Harbor but in the neighborhoods as well.

City officials estimated that the cost of building all this would hit $300 million. But O'Malley asked for only $45 million in fiscal 2002 - receiving $18 million, or about 40 percent of what he requested.

`Great job carrying the ball'

"We didn't get quite everything we were asking for, but we are very grateful that the governor has taken a big step in making this vision for Baltimore part of the state's plans," O'Malley said. "Our delegation did a great job carrying the ball."

The governor also pledged at least $50 million over five years for the city's west-side urban renewal effort and other city development projects. The west-side project seeks to build hundreds of apartments in a run-down area downtown near the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

"The state support is critical for the project and allows us to proceed and to redevelop additional properties," said Ron Kreitner, executive director of West Side Renaissance Inc.

A quarter-century ago, then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer started building what was intended to be a 7.5-mile boardwalk stretching from Canton to the Baltimore Museum of Industry on Key Highway.

Progress on the walkways slowed in the 1990s, when Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke began requiring developers to pay for the public walkways, which some developers said they couldn't afford.

Collapsed promenade

Today, the promenade is about 70 percent complete, but it has large gaps and a section has collapsed into the water along Key Highway.

State funding to build boardwalks and the concrete foundations beneath them, called bulkheads, will allow several waterfront development projects to move ahead, including the HarborView apartments on Key Highway and the North Shore office complex on Boston Street.

"The governor is very supportive of finishing the promenade. It very much fits into his Smart Growth philosophy, which says that quality of life amenities, like promenades, parks and playgrounds, are what attract new residents," said Glendening's spokesman, Mike Morrill.

Some black legislators from the city said this winter they might not support the Digital Harbor project until the city assured them that minorities would receive a fair share of the development money.

To address these concerns, O'Malley on March 26 released a five-year plan to include black-owned businesses in the Digital Harbor and west-side redevelopment projects.

State Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said O'Malley was more savvy and well-prepared this legislative session.

"O'Malley is a very astute political leader. He has political skills that are admired all around the state, and that really helps the city," Rawlings said.

Here's where some of the state funding to the city will go in the year beginning July 1:

An $8 million increase, to $16 million, in state funding for drug treatment programs in the city, which will add 1,500 treatment slots to the 7,000 now available.

An additional $55 million to improve the city's schools.

$400,000 for a study of a possible renovation of the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse.

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