Ballot Initiatives

Endorsement 2004

Election 2004

October 26, 2004

Clarification

Yesterday's endorsement of the Baltimore bond issues neglected to include Questions P and Q, loans for improvements to the Baltimore Museum of Art and Walters Art Museum that The Sun heartily supports.

Baltimore City

AS THE OLD saying goes, two wrongs don't make a right. And returning Baltimore municipal elections to odd years would fall into that category.

Question A on Tuesday's ballot, a move to change the municipal election cycle to 2007 and every four years thereafter, should be voted down.

The problem is in Annapolis, where state lawmakers have refused to accede to the will of city voters and change the city primary to reflect a 1999 voter initiative to have municipal balloting coincide with the presidential election. The fact that powerful lawmakers in Annapolis have thwarted the will of the city electorate is an egregious abuse of their power. State legislators' inaction left a 14-month gap between the city's primary, held in 2003, and the November general election. City voters shouldn't reward their bad behavior with a return to off-year elections that cost Baltimore more money than it needs to spend and usually results in low general election turnouts. City officials, voters and civic leaders should demand that state lawmakers make right by city voters when they convene in January.

The other ballot question that city voters should reject is Question E, which would lower the minimum age to run for City Council from 21 to 18. There is no compelling reason to change the eligibility criteria at this time.

The remaining ballot questions involve three technical changes to the city charter and a package of 12 bond bills that would allow the city to borrow $120 million over two years to repair school buildings, upgrade recreation facilities, demolish vacant houses and help renovate the National Aquarium, the Maryland Science Center and the B&O Railroad Museum. Questions B, C, D and F through O deserve voters' support.

Baltimore County

In Baltimore County, voters will face nine ballot questions authorizing $230 million in capital projects, a $30 million increase from two years ago, with much of that money going to upgrade county schools and roads. The Sun supports a "For" vote on all -- they are listed as Questions A through I on the ballot -- as routine expenditures that have the unanimous support of the County Council and county executive.

Baltimore County government has long been prudent about capital spending, and these requests will in no way compromise its Triple-A bond rating. The projects in question include an addition to Kenwood High School, a new football field in Dundalk, a new fire and police station in Parkville and new libraries for Perry Hall and the Community College of Baltimore County, Catonsville.

Failure of any of these ballot questions could force the county to seek alternative methods of public financing -- and that could result in higher short-term costs to county taxpayers. None of these measures has generated political opposition. And in some funding categories -- landfill costs, for instance -- the amount sought is actually smaller than was authorized by the last ballot questions two years ago.

Question A seeks about $78.7 million for public schools, Question B $5.55 million for parks, Question C $79.4 million for public works (including a record amount of road resurfacing), Question D $8.5 million for economic development, Question E $27.1 million for public buildings, Question F $1.7 million for refuse disposal, Question G $22.4 million for community colleges, Question H $3.8 million for farm preservation, and Question I $2.95 million for waterway improvement (chiefly sediment and run-off control around streams).

Howard County

Every eight years, a commission reviews Howard County's charter and recommends changes. This year, of 23 such proposals, the County Council put two amendments before Howard voters -- who should approve both.

The first would allow the council to draw up an ordinance to fill council vacancies by special election. Right now, if a council member doesn't serve out his or her term, the position is filled by his or her party's nominee. An election, of course, is far more democratic.

The second is just a housekeeping matter, clarifying the council's authority and procedure for removing members of the two boards it directly appoints.

Anne Arundel County

A proposed amendment to the county charter would raise from $10,000 to $25,000 the minimum value of purchases or contracts that trigger a requirement for competitive bidding. The purpose is to update a requirement last changed in 1986 to eliminate the need for a formal bid process for purchases or projects too small to make the cumbersome and time-consuming process worthwhile. This is an overdue update that deserves support.

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