Ehrlich, O'Malley sparring over schools may be Round 1

The state should have taken over without the heavy hand on teacher pay.

Martin O'Malley, hovering in the wings with his hat in his hand and his ego aching while Ehrlich got mug time on TV, decided the city didn't need the state's help after all, especially if it was going to come with those classic Republican, anti-organized labor conditions. So O'Mayor persuaded - some might say "snookered" - the City Council into dipping into the city's rainy day fund to loan the schools bailout money.

And now the city's bond rating is threatened, supposedly, and that could lead to the city paying more for credit, and if you're a city taxpayer you worry about how that might boost property taxes.

"We aren't stupid," the mayor assured us.

Just how risky is the risk?

When the city pulls $42 million out of the rainy day fund there would be about $14 million left in the bucket, according to one of O'Mayor's spokesmen, Stephen Kearney. "The fund was at $16 million when [O'Malley] took office," he says.

The city is going to issue $45 million in bonds in May for school construction and other projects, Kearney says. If New York were to drop Baltimore's bond rating one point, from A-plus to A, then the city would pay only $44,000 more in annual interest on the May issue than it would have with the present rating.

So maybe, on that count, O'Malley's correct - he's not stupid.

But if the fix doesn't work and the schools continue to bleed green - the way the city homicide numbers keep bouncing up again - then what?

This is O'Malley's baby. He could soar like an eagle out of this mess, or he could crash and burn. He could look like a political genius who boldly took responsibility for a big problem that wasn't his doing, or he could look like an irresponsible egomaniac who put the city's finances at risk to keep his 2006 gubernatorial opponent from looking like the hero.

Say what you will about O'Mayor, he stuck his neck out. Ehrlich, on the other hand, stepped back from the brink of Big Think, quickly took his goodie bag and went home.
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