O'Malley invites Smith to talk about Balto. Co. fiscal needs

He'll meet with other local executives next week in cooperative move

December 15, 2006|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,Sun reporter

Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley invited Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. to his transition office yesterday for the first in what is billed as a series of frank, face-to-face discussions with local officials about the state budget.

O'Malley aides said the meetings, which will include leaders from both parties, are designed to signal an increase in cooperation between the state and local governments as his administration formulates priorities and works to eliminate the large gaps between state revenues and spending expected in the coming years.

"He feels it's important that he meet with all the county executives before the budget is introduced to discuss it with them before some of the difficult choices are made," said O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese. "It's important to get their feedback before those decisions are final."

Similar meetings were held by former Gov. Parris N. Glendening's administration, but such formal discussions were not continued by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Ehrlich's office declined to comment yesterday.

Smith, whose agenda included school construction, juvenile justice and other issues, was delighted by the invitation, said his spokesman, Donald I. Mohler.

"It was just such a positive meeting," he said. "You just got the sense of how exciting it's going to be for families in Baltimore County to have a governor who truly has an open door for the county executive ... and to have someone in the governor's mansion who comes from local government, who understands the challenges of local government, is going to make such a difference."

State aid is crucial to parts of local government budgets - notably school and road construction. In tight fiscal times, local governments fret that the state budget gets balanced in part by cuts to their jurisdictions.

O'Malley, who has served seven years as Baltimore mayor, is scheduled to meet Tuesday with Harford County Executive David R. Craig and Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold, both Republicans. On Wednesday, he plans to meet with Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson and Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, both Democrats. Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, also a Democrat, is slated to round out the list on Thursday.

It's no coincidence that Smith was first. In the waning days of this fall's election campaign, Smith launched a series of advertisements urging Baltimore County voters to choose O'Malley instead of Ehrlich. His chief complaint about the current governor: He didn't return Smith's phone calls.

In his victory speech, O'Malley joked about how important Smith was to his win, saying he would install a red phone in his office to field calls from Towson.

(That might prove unnecessary since Smith later hired O'Malley's brother Peter to be his chief of staff.)

Mohler said Smith urged O'Malley to devote as much money as possible to school construction and renovation, suggested ways the state could help improve security at light rail stations and discussed plans for the Charles H. Hickey juvenile facility in Baltimore County.

Craig's spokeswoman, Roxanne Lynch, said the Harford executive is still working on an agenda for his meeting with O'Malley but that he will likely talk about school construction, infrastructure projects and the need for regional planning to handle a population influx from a national military base realignment.

Ulman said he has a lot to talk to O'Malley about - school construction, transportation, open space and more - and was trying to figure out how soon would be appropriate for him to call and ask for a meeting when O'Malley's office called him.

"We were really pleased to see that," Ulman said.

andy.green@baltsun.com

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