Child support contract extension is vetoed

Governor calls longer deal with Maximus `unadvisable'

May 16, 2002|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening vetoed a bill yesterday that would have given Maximus Inc., the company that operates Baltimore's child support enforcement program, the opportunity to extend its contract for three more years.

The administration had opposed the bill during the legislative session that ended last month. Because this is the last year of a four-year election cycle, the General Assembly cannot override the veto.

Glendening's action brought an angry denunciation from Del. Howard P. Rawlings, who helped push the bill through the Assembly as House Appropriations Committee chairman.

"I think it's awful. The experience in Mississippi shows that when the state workers took the program back, payments to families dropped by 50 percent," said Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat. He called the veto a "payoff" to public employee unions that opposed the bill.

In his veto letter, Glendening noted a report by the Johns Hopkins University and Towson University that found that public employees in four "demonstration" counties outperformed Maximus on key measures. He said the extension of what was supposed to be a three-year pilot program would be "unnecessary and unadvisable."

Rawlings said the governor's veto also ends demonstration projects in Washington, Calvert, Montgomery and Howard counties. But the governor's legislative director, Joseph Bryce, said the Department of Human Resources has enough flexibility to keep the programs going.

While the veto invalidates the three-year extension of the state contract, it will not necessarily end Maryland's 6-year-old experiment with privatization. Anticipating a veto, pro-Maximus legislators inserted language in the budget -- which the governor could not veto -- requiring that any child support spending in Baltimore next fiscal year go through a private company.

That means that when Maximus' contract expires in the fall, the state will need to arrange for the collection of child support by a private firm through June 30, 2003.

Bryce said Glendening expects to comply with that provision, but could not say how. Rawlings said the state would probably have to extend Maximus' contract because no other vendor would want to come in for just a few months.

Maximus has earned $22.7 million for collecting and disbursing child support payments in Baltimore since November 1999. The company also operates a much smaller program in Queen Anne's County.

Maximus is being investigated by the Maryland attorney general's office and legislative auditors as a result of charges raised by Teresa L. Kaiser, the state's director of child support enforcement. In March, she wrote a letter to the Joint Audit Committee alleging that Maximus had manipulated data to make its performance look better.

Bruce C. Bereano, the company's lobbyist, said neither he nor the company would comment on the veto or the investigation.

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