Senate panel votes to defy governor on privatization

February 22, 2002|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

A Senate committee has approved legislation that would continue the use of a private company to run Baltimore's child support enforcement program, using a maneuver intended to lessen the possibility of a gubernatorial veto.

Late Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee voted 8-2 to approve the continuation of a privatization experiment for three more years.

Committee Chairman Thomas L. Bromwell said the panel grafted what was a free-standing bill onto welfare reform legislation.

"I don't know that it's veto-proof. Let's just say it's a maneuver," the Baltimore County Democrat said.

The vote is a victory for Maximus Inc., which runs the child support program in Baltimore City and Queen Anne's County.

While the bill would not guarantee the company an extension of its three-year contract, it would give it the opportunity to bid as the incumbent vendor.

The Glendening administration had opposed continuing the privatization project, which is also opposed by public sector unions.

Emelda P. Johnson, secretary of the Human Resources Department, told senators last week that she based the reversal of her previous support for privatization on a study by the Johns Hopkins University and Towson University's RESI economic research arm.

The study showed that government workers using management innovations had outperformed Maximus in four test counties.

The researchers also found that the private company's performance showed no more improvement than publicly run agencies in counties where the reforms had not been introduced.

The research has been received skeptically in committees in both houses of the General Assembly, where support for the concept of contracting out government services remains high.

Maximus' lobbyist, Bruce C. Bereano, has charged that the administration has taken its position because of its close ties with organized labor.

The bill is expected to reach the Senate floor next week.

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