Players rarely grow tired of placing blame

The Political Game

Annapolis: The finger-pointing has shifted from the slots issue to economic development.

The Political Game

May 25, 2004|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

THE "BLAME GAME" has become one of the most popular pastimes in Annapolis.

This year's legislative session ended for the second straight year with an energetic round of finger-pointing over the failure of a slot-machine bill and a long-term budget-balancing plan.

Was Democratic House Speaker Michael E. Busch at fault for killing the Senate-approved slots plan? Or should Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. bear some responsibility for refusing to accept tax increases that, if combined with slots, could solve Maryland's long-term fiscal problems?

The game continued over the persistent question of a fall referendum that would amend the state constitution to allow slot machine gambling. Busch wants Ehrlich to commit to a referendum before the details of a slots plan are resolved. Ehrlich favors a different approach: Show me a slots plan you can accept, he tells the speaker, and we'll talk about a referendum.

So if a fall vote doesn't happen, whose fault will it be? Each side can accuse the other of intransigence.

The latest version of the blame game made an appearance last week, over how Maryland stacks up against other states in the biotechnology field.

This month, the consulting firm Ernst & Young released its most recent global biotechnology report, which contained some troubling news for Maryland.

North Carolina has leaped ahead of the Old Line State and now boasts the third-largest concentration of biotechnology companies in the country. Previously, Maryland ranked behind only California and Massachusetts, but has now slipped to fourth.

Pouncing on the development was Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a potential Democratic rival to Ehrlich in 2006 and the chief executive of a county that depends heavily on biotechnology investment along the Interstate 270 corridor for its economic health.

Maryland's slippage is Ehrlich's fault, Duncan said.

"This is yet another sign that our governor's singular obsession with expanding gambling as an economic development tool is starting to have a negative impact on the state's technology industry," he said in a statement.

"For the past two years, despite lofty rhetoric, the main economic development focus from Annapolis has been on expanding gambling," he said. "In the meantime, our neighbors in Virginia, and competitors such as North Carolina and Massachusetts, have been pouring resources and energy into growing their advanced technology sectors.

"Instead of trying desperately to add 3,000 minimum-wage jobs in the state, we should be talking about attracting the high-paying, high-quality jobs that are now going to our neighboring states. The Ernst & Young report should serve as a wake-up call. I just hope the governor will hear it."

Nonsense, said Henry Fawell, a spokesman for Ehrlich - who as a congressman was co-chairman of the House biotechnology caucus. The state's technology climate is affected more by Democrats pushing for tax increases in the General Assembly (a House-backed tax increase failed this year) than by the gambling debate, Fawell said.

"If Doug Duncan and his friends in Annapolis would stop obsessing over billion-dollar tax hikes, maybe there would be more venture capital activity in Maryland," he said.

Fawell noted that Maryland recently won a venture capital award from the U.S. Department of Commerce and that Ehrlich is implementing the recommendations of the Governor's Commission on the Development of Advanced Technology Business, led by George F. Pappas of the Baltimore law firm Venable LLP.

"If it wasn't for the governor's leadership, perhaps Maryland would have fallen even more, given the state of venture capital in Maryland when he took office," Fawell said. "He's done a lot to improve it."

Schaefer notes he didn't have role in GOP event

Del. Herbert H. McMillan, an Anne Arundel Republican, was not authorized to use Comptroller William Donald Schaefer's name on a solicitation letter for a fund-raiser last week, the comptroller's office says.

Schaefer received some publicity for participating in the $100-a-head breakfast fund-raiser for one of the General Assembly's most outspoken conservatives. Schaefer is a Democrat who is not always in line with his party's thinking, as his recent omission from a list of delegates to the Democratic National Convention shows.

McMillan's invitations said that Schaefer was a "special guest" for the event, as was Republican state Sen. Andrew P. Harris, the minority whip from Baltimore County. Schaefer's and Harris' names were displayed in bold type and in large font - designed to draw attention and garner contributions. "Yes, I will join Comptroller Schaefer, Sen. Harris and Herb for breakfast," read the first line of the ticket-purchase return form.

This column reported last week that Schaefer was a co-host of the event. Other news media outlets said the comptroller was a speaker. None of the characterizations is true, says Michael Golden, a spokesman for the comptroller.

"The comptroller never gave his permission to have his name used in conjunction with the materials to promote this breakfast," Golden said. "He was not a co-host of this event. All I know is he attended this breakfast as a favor to a friend. I know he has not issued any endorsements of any candidates or politicians at this time. The comptroller told me he did not know the guy was a Republican."

McMillan could not be reached for comment yesterday. The delegate's legislative aide, Debbie Yatsuk, said that Schaefer's name was included as a sign of respect after the comptroller indicated he would attend. "By putting it on the mailing, it shows that Delegate McMillan was proud and honored to have him come," Yatsuk said.

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