Angry legislators blocked the opening of a $1.2 million day-care center at a state office building in Crownsville Thursday night, complaining that they were left out of the approval process.

Members of the House Subcommittee on Health and the Environment decided not to allow the Department of Housing and Community Development to open the day-care center this year.

"We said they can't open it. There are a lot of questions about why they did this without approval and how its going to work," said Delegate Martha Klima, R-Baltimore County. "For instance, should the state subsidize day care the same for a $105,000-per-year (high-rankingdepartment officials) as it does for a $16,000 clerk?"

The centerwas built with money left over from a $23 million appropriation for a 105,000-square-foot office complex that will be the headquarters for the department.

Housing Deputy Secretary Ardath Cade, who said she considers child-care facilities to be a natural extension of any office building, decided to push for a state-of-the-art day care center with some of the leftover money in fall 1989.

Cade received the support of the governor's office, the Board of Public Works, the General Services and Budget and Fiscal Planning departments but failed toconsult the legislators despite an advisory memo ordering her to do


Lawmakers are torn over whether the state should, or can afford, to subsidize day care for all state workers. In any case, legislators say it is a major policy decision they should have been allowed to deliberate on.

Before Thursday's decision, Delegate Howard P. Rawlings, D-Baltimore, who chairs the subcommittee worried that if theyallowed the child-care center to open in Crownsville the state wouldface lawsuits from state employees who don't have subsidized child care available to them. Rawlings was also incensed by the housing officials' seeming lack of respect for due process.

"We can't just letthem say 'I'm sorry' and go ahead. There should definitely be some way to get some of that $1.2 million back from the operator," said Rawlings, whose subcommittee oversees the department's budget.

Sen. Ida Ruben, D-Montgomery County, who supports day care but criticized the expense of the Crownsville center, said the house committee may have acted hastily in preventing the day-care center from opening.

"(The Housing Department) was wrong, and the committees were upset. But I'm not sure stripping them of it is the right way to react," Rubensaid.

The Senate, Ruben said, may consider a plan to rent the building to a private company that could provide child-care services andhelp recoup some of the costs.

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