Lead poison funds slashed

Rosenberg backs cuts in city's key project to gain O'Malley's ear

Says mayor reneged on bill

March 16, 2002|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

A House Appropriations subcommittee chairman has stripped an extra quarter-million dollars from the governor's proposed budget for Baltimore's lead-abatement program, saying openly it is retaliation for Mayor Martin O'Malley's refusal to support a bill he is co-sponsoring.

Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat who heads the Health and Human Resources subcommittee, said he is "sending a message" to O'Malley, who he says reneged on a promise to back a measure that would set stricter standards for lead-dust levels in housing.

"You have to sometimes get people's attention," Rosenberg said. "Nothing concentrates the mind like a budget ax."

O'Malley spokesman Steve Kearney denied that the mayor promised to support the bill, which is co-sponsored by Rosenberg and 21 other delegates.

The bill, which is backed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, among others, would toughen the standard for considering a house safe from hazardous lead dust.

City officials have said they would stay neutral on the bill and instead focus on keeping lawmakers from cutting money from a program that helps city residents remove lead paint from their houses.

Rosenberg, a longtime advocate of preventing childhood lead poisoning, said O'Malley promised him two weeks ago he would support the bill, but has since changed his mind.

On Thursday, Rosenberg persuaded his subcommittee to cut $250,000 -- on top of the $1 million the Senate recommended be cut last week -- of the $3.5 million budgeted for the program O'Malley is trying to protect.

Yesterday, Rosenberg sent O'Malley a letter telling him he would restore the money if the mayor agrees to support his lead paint bill.

"If you see fit to support certain provisions of [the bill], don't hesitate to call so that I can rescind this cut," Rosenberg wrote.

In an interview yesterday, Kearney accused Rosenberg of using children as political pawns.

"It is surprising that Delegate Rosenberg is willing to place at risk the lives of children in Baltimore because he is upset the mayor hasn't taken a position on legislation," Kearney said.

The bill would also require landlords owning houses built before 1950 to measure dust levels before a new tenant moves in. It is strongly opposed by property owners, who say it will drive up their costs.

Earlier this week, O'Malley wrote Rosenberg, saying, "I cannot affirmatively support measures that would more harshly regulate rental property owners in the name of lead paint abatement in the same year that the state is cutting funding for lead paint abatement."

Gov. Parris N. Glendening included $3.5 million in his budget for the city's lead abatement program. Legislative analysts are recommending lawmakers cut $2 million of that money because they say the city has yet to spend the money it received last year.

So far, the Senate has cut $1 million of that money. Rosenberg's subcommittee has agreed with the Senate's recommendation and added its own $250,000 cut. A conference committee will ultimately decide how much, if any, is cut from the program.

Ruth Ann Norton, director of the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, said she understands Rosenberg's actions and would like to see O'Malley back the bill. "He made a commitment to Delegate Rosenberg, and there is a feeling the commitment was not followed through, and in Annapolis that can get you in trouble," Norton said.

Rosenberg sent an e-mail to 300 government officials and supporters yesterday describing the feud.

When he described the $250,000 he cut from the city program, he wrote: "In Annapolis, this is how we deliver a message."

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