O'Malley seeks more money for lead paint abatement

Ehrlich's budget cuts programs by $2.75 million

February 21, 2003|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Mayor Martin O'Malley urged state lawmakers yesterday to press the governor for more lead paint abatement funding after discovering that $2.75 million was cut from the city's programs.

The mayor also warned that human service programs statewide will suffer large funding losses if Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr.'s budget does not restore some slashed funding.

"There are a whole bunch of cruddy little cuts," O'Malley said during a news conference in Annapolis yesterday. "We should not be cutting programs that are effective."

One of the programs hardest hit in Ehrlich's budget is the city's lead paint abatement programs, all of which will run out of money by the end of the year. Some of the programs could run out of money as soon as September, city officials said.

Ehrlich budgeted $1.25 million for lead paint abatement and enforcement programs that require at least $2.75 million for full funding, said Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, commissioner of Baltimore's Health Department.

Beilenson told the city's House delegation two weeks ago that Ehrlich allocated $250,000 for the lead paint enforcement program, which needed twice as much money to continue throughout the next fiscal year, beginning July 1.

Yesterday, Beilenson, who attended the news conference and a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing with O'Malley, said they also discovered that the governor cut $2.5 million from the lead paint abatement program that is allocated to the city in the state Department of Housing and Community Development's budget.

Without the $2.5 million, the city would have to reject 515 of the 600 abatement applications under consideration, Beilenson said.

Ehrlich pledged throughout last year's campaign that he would support lead paint initiatives. He has maintained that commitment in recent interviews, saying he will provide additional money for the city's lead paint programs in the state's supplemental budget.

In addition, Ehrlich said he believes some private dollars could help support some of the lead paint initiatives.

Henry Fawell, an Ehrlich spokesman, said yesterday that the governor remains committed to combating lead paint problems.

"Abatement is a personal priority of the governor's," Fawell said. "He made it a priority back in Congress. He continues to make it a priority as governor.

"He has inherited a massive deficit and had to make some tough choices to present a balanced and sustainable budget to the General Assembly this year," he said.

The lead paint program is one of the city's top priorities for the legislative session. Because of strong state support for the lead paint initiatives, the number of lead-poisoned children has dropped 36 percent since 1999, city officials said.

"I didn't fight this hard and this long to be turned back now," Del. Nathaniel T. Oaks, a Northwest Baltimore Democrat and a leading advocate for increased lead paint abatement money, said at a news conference yesterday.

Lead paint poisoning in children has been blamed for impaired brain and nervous system development, poor school performance and delinquency.

"We have a moral obligation to invest in our children," Ruth Ann Norton, executive director of the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, told a House subcommittee yesterday. "This is an entirely preventable problem."

In large part, the city's lead paint abatement program fell victim to the state's fiscal problems. Maryland faces an approximately $1.3 billion shortfall.

Along with the lead paint program, other human services programs also suffered in the governor's budget.

The governor also cut the parks and playgrounds program budget, through which the city received $1.4 million during the past two years.

City officials said many of the governor's cuts are hidden but will have a significant impact on the state. City lawmakers said they will work to ensure that the lead paint abatement money, in particular, is restored because of the severe health risk to children.

"The governor's budget will move us backward," said Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg, a Northwest Baltimore Democrat and another leading proponent of lead paint abatement programs.

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