O'Malley gives General Assembly wish list of city spending priorities

Mayor also seeking fix for city election glitch

January 11, 2003|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Mayor Martin O'Malley released yesterday a list of his priorities for the General Assembly session that includes requests for more than $30 million in public safety and economic development initiatives.

Most of the new money is aimed at expanding drug treatment, continuing lead-paint abatement and funding the East Baltimore biotech park.

The mayor also is seeking to remedy a glitch in the city's next election, which will require action by the legislature.

City officials moved the next general election to November 2004, but the primary, which is by law set by the legislature, remains scheduled for this September. If state lawmakers do not move the primary date during this session, the city might have a lame-duck administration for 14 months.

It appears the glitch in the election is the most likely legislative issue to be resolved. Finding new money in Annapolis at a time when the state faces a $1.2 billion deficit could prove far more difficult.

"There are some things that probably won't happen this year," O'Malley said last night. "But if we continue our progress, the city will become less of a burden on the state."

The mayor said he hopes Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. will not balance the budget by cutting aid to local government. O'Malley said local governments have had to raise taxes to adjust for state tax cuts and would be devastated if they have to bear the burden of the budget shortfall.

"All of us in local government would be thankful if we could maintain status quo," O'Malley said.

Ehrlich, who is scheduled to address the city's House delegation Friday, said during the campaign that he is a strong advocate of drug treatment programs and that he would not balance the budget on the backs of local government. It is unclear, however, whether significant increases in program funding will happen this year.

Last night, the governor-elect would not disclose what amounts he was proposing spending for drug treatment and lead-paint issues in Baltimore. "We're not giving numbers, obviously," he said.

But he said that issues he spoke about during his campaign -- people with disabilities, drug treatment, mental health and public safety -- would all be priorities.

"Everything's relative," he said. "I can tell you that not everything got cut."

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the city might see some increase "but maybe not at the level that the mayor would like to see the funding."

"I think the major focus is that we don't lose any ground in fiscal year 2004 over current funding," Rawlings said.

Rawlings said the budget is expected to grow by more than 2.5 percent.

The city and other poorer jurisdictions usually benefit from the so-called disparity grant program, which gives those areas additional state aid. But Rawlings said that because of the troubled economy, that funding could suffer.

As part of his legislative package, O'Malley is requesting an adjustment in the formula used to award disparity grants.

Other city requests include the extension of the DNA technology fund; $1.7 million to continue city gun prosecutions; and a state Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) grant program.

Sun staff writer David Nitkin contributed to this article.

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