A pledge best left unfulfilled

August 15, 2006

Of all the pledges supposedly uttered in the din of the 2002 gubernatorial race, candidate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s promise to put a state agency in Prince George's County is one that we could have easily chalked up to campaign exuberance. At the time, it would have made perfect sense - in a campaign kind of way - for the Republican hopeful to appeal to voters by announcing that, if elected, he would bring some of the state's largesse to their county. That was four years ago. What we're hearing now about how the administration intends to move the Maryland Department of Planning to Largo makes no sense at all. Unless, of course, we chalk it up again to campaign exuberance.

Currently, the bulk of the department's 150 employees work out of state-owned offices at 301 W. Preston St. in Baltimore (another 40 or so are assigned to state-owned offices in Crownsville), where the state collects about $10,000 a year in rent. If the two groups are consolidated inside a single, privately held office complex in Largo - as the state has proposed - the annual rent is expected to be about $838,000 a year. That brings to mind the late Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, who wisely reminded us that it is fiscally foolish for the state to pay rent when it could be its own landlord.

If throwing away that kind of money isn't bad enough, consider the consequences such a move would have for the department's employees. Most of them live in the Baltimore area, and their workplace is close to light rail and the Metro. If they had to travel to Largo, where there is less access to public transportation, many would consume time and funds driving to and from work. Other workers might simply quit their jobs.

Apprised of the plan last winter, the General Assembly weighed in by denying nearly $2 million the Ehrlich administration had requested for the relocation. That hasn't stopped the governor from going ahead. Recently, according to The Sun's Timothy B. Wheeler, the state drafted a lease agreement for the Largo property and requested that the matter come before the Board of Public Works. Maybe that's not a bad idea. We suspect two board members - Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp - would vote against the lease. Gov. Ehrlich, the third member, could vote for it. The issue would die and we could chalk it up to campaign exuberance.

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