Lead paint program in city in peril

State budget fails to meet needs, health director says

February 08, 2003|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Baltimore health officials are concerned that Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s budget for next year will fund just six months of the city's programs to fight the poisoning of children by lead paint.

Speaking to the city's House delegation in Annapolis yesterday, Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, the city's health director, said the governor allocated $250,000 in his initial budget - but Baltimore needs twice as much to ensure that enforcement and abatement programs continue throughout the 2004 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Beilenson said he also was troubled by recommendations from the Department of Legislative Services to the General Assembly that the money Ehrlich budgeted for lead paint be cut to help resolve the state's almost $1.3 billion budget shortfall. Such a move would eliminate the enforcement and abatement programs.

"It would be disastrous for the kids in the city," Beilenson said.

Ehrlich said yesterday that he remains committed to helping combat lead poisoning and he would look at adding the needed money through his supplemental budget later in the session.

"I said before that lead paint abatement will be a priority in this administration," Ehrlich said.

The city delegates told Beilenson they would make every effort to ensure the city has the money it needs for lead paint abatement, including lobbying their colleagues to keep the funds in the budget.

"We need to look at [Ehrlich's] budget and defend it," said Del. Nathaniel T. Oaks, a West Baltimore Democrat who has helped lead the fight for lead paint dollars in Annapolis.

Some delegates suggested the state consider raising government fees paid by landlords to help generate a continuing source of money for lead paint abatement, though Ehrlich has generally opposed higher assessments on individuals and businesses.

"I think with this governor, we're going to have a hard time raising fees, but it might be that we have to start looking at raising fees," said Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, a Northeast Baltimore Democrat.

Beilenson said he believes raising fees would hurt landlords who comply with lead paint laws. But he said some additional steps are needed to protect the enforcement and abatement programs.

During the 1990s, no enforcement actions were filed against city landlords, Beilenson said. But during the past three years, since the Baltimore City Lead Initiative began, the city has filed 427 enforcement actions, he said.

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