Mayor defines funding priorities

O'Malley letter to state requests money for schools, redevelopment, social services

Baltimore & Region


Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's wish list for state money next year includes requests for dozens of priorities, including increased funding for such big-ticket items as school construction, economic and community development, job creation, drug treatment, and social services.

O'Malley's annual request to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. comes as the Democratic mayor seeks to challenge the Republican executive in the 2006 election. But while the three pages of city needs point out state cuts to Baltimore, the mayor's letter never veers into a rant against his rival.

"We do quite well in a divided government in terms of having a Republican administration," said state Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, the head of Baltimore's Senate delegation, who will push for the mayor's priorities when the General Assembly convenes next month. "The governor and his budget people have been responsive to the needs of [Baltimore] citizens - politics aside."

McFadden and Del. Salima S. Marriott said they expect similar smooth sailing for city priorities in Ehrlich's budget next year regardless of the pending elections. Ehrlich spokesmen did not respond to requests for comment.

"Elections are one thing, and governing is another thing," McFadden said. "After [the General Assembly's last day], that's when the gloves come off. That's when the elections start."

Until then, Marriott said, the city's delegation works closely with O'Malley, Deputy Mayor Jeanne Hitchcock and Ehrlich budget officials to meet the city's needs.

"We have been fairly successful in getting the things we want," Marriott said. "We never get all that we ask for."

O'Malley's Nov. 18 letter to Ehrlich, which was recently released by the mayor's office, spells out numerous policy priorities that require state support.

In the letter, O'Malley joined other jurisdictions in requesting that school construction statewide be funded at $400 million next fiscal year.

The mayor requested $100 million for city schools to help pay for such capital needs as roof and boiler replacements and new windows. O'Malley is also asking Ehrlich to budget $10 million more than the $12.1 million required by statute for school systems with aging facilities.

For economic development projects on the city's east and west sides of downtown, O'Malley is asking for a total of $14 million - $6 million on the west side for land acquisitions in the "superblock" bounded by Howard, Liberty, Fayette and Lexington streets to transform it into housing, shops, parking and possibly offices, and $8 million for the East Baltimore biotech park project that will redevelop 30 acres north of Johns Hopkins Hospital into office space, residential units, retail stores and parking.

To help spur job creation, the mayor wants $2 million for summer employment for 2,000 teens, $3 million for job training and placement assistance for high school dropouts that would also save a federally funded program set to expire in June, and $500,000 to help 1,800 former inmates find work.

The mayor also asked the state to budget $52.7 million over several years for community development projects that will pay for the acquisition and demolition of real estate. Plans for such parcels include building affordable housing units that city officials believe will spur private real estate investment.

Hitchcock said drug treatment remains one of the mayor's top priorities and that he is seeking $5 million more from the state for several initiatives - for residential services, for parents with children in foster care and for former inmates.

The letter requests that Ehrlich's administration restore funding for social programs that has been cut in the past three legislative sessions. Specifically, O'Malley has asked for $10 million for after-school programs and $100,000 for elder care programs.

On public safety, the mayor asked for nearly $2 million to support prosecutors trying gun and murder cases, $7.3 million in grants for the Baltimore Police Department and $1.7 million for the Fire Department to protect the Port of Baltimore.

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