Jody Albright, Artscape director for Mayor Schaefer, sat in our editorial offices earlier this year and said, quite plainly, that if the city wanted its Artscape money back, all it had to do was ask. But Mayor Schmoke has been asking for three years, and Baltimore still has not received the more than $700,000 that was intended for the annual arts event.

There is some dispute whether the fund is part taxpayers' money and part private donations, or whether it represents private donations entirely. No matter. Every bit of it was either allocated or given -- knowingly -- for the city's festival. But that was during the Schaefer administration. When the mayor became governor and went to Annapolis, he took Albright with him. And she, in turn, took with her the Artscape coffers. The money has since been sitting in bank accounts the city can't touch.

Mayor Schmoke, who finally reached his breaking point with Schaefer paternalism, brought the issue to court a year and a half ago. But Circuit Court Judge Mabel Houze Hubbard has turned bureaucratic shoe-shuffling into a fine art. The city still hasn't gotten either the money or a ruling.

As a result, the city -- which can ill afford it -- had to pump $160,000 from its operating funds into Artscape this year. The state kicked in, too -- $33,000. With the city schools short of textbooks and the state confronting a $300 million deficit, it is ludicrous to spend tax money for Artscape when there are hundreds of thousands of dollars, intended precisely for that purpose, sitting in the bank.

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