$2.1 million plan to furnish House building tabled

Ehrlich, Schaefer want legislators to give part of order to prison shop

August 11, 2005|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. are blocking a plan to fill the House of Delegates' new office building with $2,000 desks, $1,300 chairs and a $4,800 sofa, arguing that legislators should give at least part of the order to a prison labor shop.

Saying that they have State Use Industries furniture in their offices and find it of high quality, Schaefer and Ehrlich essentially tabled a proposal before the Board of Public Works yesterday in which the House sought to buy $2.1 million in furnishings from private sources.

"They're trying to build a Taj Mahal over there," Schaefer said. "It's not right."

Ehrlich said the prison furniture shop can make bookcases, desks, tables and chairs worthy of being used in the $29 million building, which is set to open by January.

"Everybody wants attractive buildings in the public sector," Ehrlich said. "I want it to look nice. The building needs to look nice, but it needs to be done in a fiscally prudent way."

House Speaker Michael E. Busch said he has not been directly involved in the furniture selection and has relied on staff and the Department of General Services to handle the furniture order. He said he didn't know the prices of the furniture until he saw them printed in the Board of Public Works agenda yesterday.

"Our ultimate goal is to have the best product at the best price in a timely fashion so we can conduct the people's business come January," Busch said. "If the Board of Public Works wants to bring in any other people or experts to make cost savings, that would be fine."

General Services spokesman Dave Humphrey said his agency, which oversees state buildings and construction, submitted an overall budget for furnishing the new building to the Department of Budget and Management, which approved the proposal.

The interior designer for the project's architect then worked with a representative from the House to choose furnishings that fit within the budget, Humphrey said.

Busch said he was surprised to hear objections yesterday because no one in the administration or comptroller's office had raised them before. In 2003, Busch sent a letter to Schaefer inviting the comptroller's staff to examine the plans for the building and offer any suggestions for cost cutting.

Schaefer spokesman Michael Golden said the comptroller sent a staffer to review the plans, but they were substantially complete at the time, leaving him little chance for input.

Five years ago, Schaefer questioned the furniture purchase for the new Thomas V. Mike Miller Senate Office Building but, according to a Board of Public Works meeting transcript, he never suggested the Senate buy from State Use Industries. Parris N. Glendening was governor at the time.

According to Board of Public Works records, the Senate spent about $730,000 on furniture for its office building in 2000, about a third of what the House is seeking to spend now. There are three times as many delegates as senators.

Former Sen. Robert R. Neall, who was assigned to oversee construction of the Miller building, said most of its furniture was purchased through a federal General Services Administration contract.

"I know we saved a lot of money," said Neall, an Anne Arundel Democrat. "The price was substantially less than anything we looked at, including State Use Industries."

Steve Shiloh, general manager of State Use Industries, said at the board meeting yesterday that he would have liked to bid on the House job and believes he could have provided top-quality furniture for a lower cost.

But he said he didn't bid after receiving a letter from Busch in June in which the speaker wrote that State Use furniture "does not appear to be consistent with the quality of the furniture currently in the House and Senate office buildings."

Shiloh said it would have been difficult for State Use Industries to do the entire job if workers had started in June and it would likely be impossible now. His workers could do part of the job, he said.

Busch said he wrote the letter based on recommendations from staff members who toured the State Use Industries showroom and factory. He said he doesn't insist on any particular kind of furniture but wants something compatible with existing furniture in the House, Senate and governor's offices.

Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese N. DeLeaver said that about 80 percent of the furniture in the executive branch offices on the second floor of the State House came from State Use, though most of it was left by previous administrations.

When this administration has bought new furniture, it has generally been cheaper than what was proposed for the House building, DeLeaver said.

For example, Ehrlich got a new bookcase for his outer office from State Use Industries for $189. The bookcases in the proposal for the House building cost between $391 and $840.

Golden said the desks and cabinets used by Schaefer's front-office staff all came from State Use Industries. The comptroller has spent more than $1 million for State Use furniture in the past three years, Golden said.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.