Promises often hard to keep

THE POLITICAL GAME

Reality: As a candidate, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. talked of savings he would make, but as governor he's found that doing is not as easy as saying.

February 11, 2003|By David Nitkin and Doug Donovan | David Nitkin and Doug Donovan,SUN STAFF

GOV. ROBERT L. Ehrlich Jr. is making good on some campaign promises, such as spending more money for drug treatment and pushing for slot machine gambling.

Others aren't so easy to keep.

Candidate Ehrlich said he would sell the state plane, the state yacht and the state boxes at Oriole Park at Camden Yards and Ravens Stadium to generate much needed money for a budget in distress.

The idea was featured in his campaign's budget-balancing blueprint, titled "Restoring Fiscal Discipline to Annapolis."

"There is no reason for the governor and other state officials to enjoy such luxuries when the state is facing such tough fiscal times," the document said. "Selling these extravagant amenities will bring $5 million into the state's coffers."

It turns out that reality is a little bit different.

Governor Ehrlich's budget calls for getting rid of the state's King Air airplane, which is leased. To turn it over, the state must buy out the lease.

Warren Deschenaux, the General Assembly's top budget analyst, said the move will save only minimal cash. And the state must look for another way to pick up prisoners out of state, incurring additional expense.

The luxury boxes can't be sold because the state doesn't own them. Oriole Park and Ravens Stadium are owned by the Maryland Stadium Authority, which leases them to the sports clubs. Each lease contains a clause that allows the governor free use of a luxury box, said Richard W. Slosson, the authority's executive director.

If the boxes were returned to the teams, the Orioles and Ravens could sell them -- making money, Slosson said. But the state wouldn't receive anything. So it's not worth it to give a free marketing tool back to the private team owners.

"Someone called and said `How do we do this?'" Slosson said. "And we said, `You can't.'"

DiPaula says the state yacht can be liquidated, but isn't worth much money.

So the $5 million in savings promised months ago has quickly evaporated.

And Ehrlich will still get to attend many of the sporting events that he loves.

And how goes that hot line on fraud, waste, abuse?

The same campaign document that says Ehrlich will sell state goodies also makes another promise: "The first day in office, Governor Ehrlich will launch the `Governor's Hotline for State Employees' to report fraud, waste, abuse and political activities."

As of yesterday, the governor's office had not mentioned the hot line. But when asked, spokesman Henry Fawell insisted it had been up and running since Inauguration Day. Complaints can be registered at 888-FRAUD-MD.

When a reporter called the number yesterday, it was answered: "Governor Ehrlich's office." The staffer said she wasn't sure if the hot line was operational, or if the number should be published.

But Fawell insisted it was. "They have a script to follow, and forms to fill out," he said. "Training is ongoing."

Win federal money, and get your name on city fireboat

Mayor Martin O'Malley so badly wants federal money for a new city fireboat that last week he tried fueling competition among three members of Maryland's congressional delegation by promising to name the vessel for the one who lands the funding first.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski joined the mayor Feb. 3 to promote a $632,800 federal grant she secured for arson investigations and other needs at the Fire Department. Mikulski said she was also striving to meet one other request -- $3.5 million for a new city fireboat.

"Firefighters have to be an integral part of port security and to be out there with the latest and best fireboat," she said.

"The SS Mikulski, I think it's going to be called," O'Malley said jokingly.

Playing right along, the senator replied: "With a lot of ballast in the keel, I might add."

Two days later, O'Malley stood with Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin at a news conference calling for more federal money for local homeland security responsibilities.

The fireboat issue resurfaced when O'Malley mentioned the request for federal financing.

"We told Senator Mikulski we would name this the SS Mikulski if she gets the money for it," O'Malley said. "If it comes out of the House first, you guys can flip a coin to see if it will be called the SS Cardin or SS Ruppersberger."

But given Congress' current partisan edge, the mayor might have more luck if he offered to launch the SS Roscoe Bartlett.

Sun staff writers Tim Craig and Michael Dresser contributed to this article.

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