City urged to forge D.C.-area partnership

Good relationship needed in tough economic time, Ehrlich tells lawmakers

January 25, 2003|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. called on Baltimore lawmakers yesterday to forge a more positive relationship with their colleagues in the Washington suburbs as the state grapples with tough budget and legislative issues.

Although the city and Prince George's and Montgomery counties share many views on social and political concerns, they have been at odds at times over such issues as funding for city schools.

"There is an increasing detachment between Baltimore and the Washington suburbs," Ehrlich told the group of city delegates, many of whom praised the new governor.

"When you're talking about the Redskins and the Ravens, that's fine," he said. "But I would just ask this delegation to interact in more visible ways [with Washington-area lawmakers]. It's pretty serious."

Ehrlich's meeting with city delegates was his first appearance before a single delegation since he took office.

His call for a more harmonious relationship comes amid potential tension between the city's shrinking power base and the growing influence of Montgomery and Prince George's.

Del. Kumar P. Barve, a Montgomery Democrat and House majority leader, said he believes relations have been smooth in recent times. "I didn't think they were that broken," he said.

But Baltimore lawmakers are concerned about how the city will fare in Annapolis with the loss of four senators and 11 delegates in last year's redistricting.

Even with the city's reduced power in the legislature, Ehrlich reiterated his support for some of the priorities on its agenda, including funds for drug treatment, juvenile justice reform and prevention of violent crime. To that end, the governor said he would continue to push for state police involvement in combating city crime.

Ehrlich said he shares the belief of Baltimore leaders that the city remains the economic engine of Maryland and requires state assistance.

The governor's remarks - which he described as a prelude to his State of the State address Wednesday - were met with enthusiastic support from city delegates, who praised his grasp of the issues facing Baltimore and the state.

"The issues of the state of Maryland revolve around the problem of addiction," said Del. Salima Siler Marriott, chairwoman of the city House delegation. "A governor who understands, that is exciting."

But she said she is concerned about the governor's use of money from the state's transportation fund to balance the budget, because the city relies on those dollars to help pay its road and transportation costs.

Marriott said she supports the call for improved relations between the city and the Washington suburbs, but said her immediate focus will be to continue strengthening ties with the lawmakers in the Baltimore suburbs.

"My first strategy is to come together with the Baltimore metropolitan area," Marriott said. "They are our natural allies because they are contiguous to us. We have to come to the Washington suburbs solid."

Barve said he does not see a problem between the city and the Washington suburbs. He said the Montgomery delegation supports the city, understanding that it has greater needs.

"The city gets more money, but they're supposed to," Barve said. "The city has needs."

Barve acknowledged some past disagreements over school funding, but he does not see any problems now.

"I'm a happy camper," he said. "Now, if the city wants to go out of its way to be nice to us, I won't complain."

Tension between the city and the Washington area was highlighted in debates over funding for city schools during the past several years.

In 1997, some lawmakers in the Washington suburbs opposed a $254 million funding package for city schools, in part because Prince George's officials said their school system needed similar assistance.

Last year, Montgomery legislators called the Thornton Commission funding plan - an initiative to infuse $1.3 billion a year into public schools - unfair because it gave too much to the poorer jurisdictions and not enough to the wealthier ones.

The Montgomery officials accepted the plan after their colleagues agreed to increase support for the wealthier counties.

This month, regional rivalries flared in a transportation briefing when the chairman of Baltimore's Senate delegation questioned the number of projects aimed at Washington suburbs.

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