A Sorry Buy-InOn April 28, President Bush...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A Sorry Buy-In

On April 28, President Bush attended a political dinner that raised $8 million for the GOP. Contributors who forked up $92,000 each got a photograph with the president and the opportunity to lobby White House and cabinet officials and the Republican leadership in Congress.

Those who contributed $30,000 got a table "completed" by a U.S. senator. Access to U.S. representatives was a bargain at $15,000.

This dinner sent the sad message that access to public officials at the highest level is available for big bucks. During the 1980s, for example, the savings and loan industry contributed more than $10 million to win friends in Washington.

Under deregulation and lax government oversight, the industry went on a binge of unsound banking practices that resulted in an estimated $500 billion bailout by taxpayers.

Opponents who argue we can't afford to spend tax dollars to clean up federal elections ignore the much larger costs of the current corrupt system.

Less than two weeks after the infamous dinner, President Bush protected a corrupt campaign financing system by vetoing campaign finance reform. The bill bans $100,000 fat-cat contributions in presidential campaigns, reduces the role of special interest Political Action Committees, limits congressional campaign spending and provides public resources to make elections fairer and more competitive.

President Bush, who by November will have accepted more public funds in his campaigns for vice president and president than any other politician (approximately $200 million), defended his veto by criticizing spending limits and publicly-financed communications vouchers for qualifying congressional candidates. How hypocritical.

The biggest scandal in Washington is the way special-interest money is used to buy access and influence in the Congress and at the White House. Responsibility for preserving the current corrupt campaign financing system in Washington lies on President Bush's doorstep.

Phil Andrews

Annapolis

The writer is executive director of Common Cause/Maryland.

Employees' HFCA Preferences

I would like to comment on your editorial, "The Bitter HCFA Fight," and the various advantages you state the downtown site has over the Woodlawn site.

You claim the downtown site has superior public transit and highway access. At first glance, the downtown site has more public transportation with the light rail, subway and public buses.

However, the nearest subway stations are a good half-mile hike from the site -- not a distance I want to trudge in bad weather or on a dark winter night in the city. The light-rail stops have the disadvantage of limited parking.

Neither of these modes of transportation helps the many employees who live west of the site in Baltimore County or Howard and Carroll counties.

As for highway access, I believe you are dead wrong. The Woodlawn site is very close to the interchange of the Baltimore beltway and Interstate 70. The downtown site is close to Interstate 95 only. Interstate 83 comes into downtown Baltimore, but on the other side of the downtown area.

According to your editorial, the Woodlawn site does not match the city site for convenience or prestige. Who have you been talking to? The Health Care Financing Administrtion's employees have repeatedly and emphatically stated their preference for the Woodlawn site. They have said that a move to downtown would be extremely inconvenient.

As to prestige, who wants to work in a traffic-clogged, crime-ridden area which has no parking? In contrast, Woodlawn would provide ample parking for employees and security guards to protect them.

The decision should be made on what is best for HCFA and its employees, not on what is best for Baltimore City.

When only those factors are taken into consideration, the obvious choice is to remain in the Woodlawn area.

Phyllis A. Griffin

Baltimore

You recommend that the pro-Baltimore County and pro-Baltimore City factions in the relocation battle of HCFA headquarters "stop politicking and let GSA make a non-political recommendation on HCFA's future." Yet you do not hesitate to strongly endorse the proposed Baltimore City site, while ignoring the case for the county site.

If, as you say, the bottom line of the issue is that, no matter what, HCFA will stay in the Baltimore metropolitan area, you seriously compromise that argument by expressing your preference. If your point is to let the competitive process take its course, you have undercut that point drastically.

Further, The Sun's reasons for choosing the city site omit a crucial area of consideration -- the extreme inconvenience and disruption in the work and personal lives of thousands of HCFA employees.

We are not concerned about the visibility or impressiveness of a prospective location or the benefit a site may have for those with vested interests. We are concerned about doing our jobs.

However, most of us must carefully balance our work lives with other important aspects of our lives: child care arrangements; care of older or disabled parents; part-time jobs; evening college courses; commitments to home and community, and so on.

Working at a site near Camden Yards would destroy that balance for many of us.

It would mean dismantling long-standing car-pools, giving up the flexibility of driving due to severely limited parking, changing working hours to conform to public transportation schedules, and significant additional commuting time.

Our ability to take advantage of hard-won options such as flexible working hours would be limited or eliminated. All of these factors would make our daily and often fragile "balancing acts" far more difficult and do great damage to employee morale.

Ilene London

Baltimore

Educational Opportunity is Key to Urban Ills

Carl Rowan has given me a shot in the arm, but more than that he has told me what one middle-aged woman, fortunate enough, in America, to have been born white, can do to channel her indignation at the shocking Rodney King verdict, the debacle following it in Los Angeles, and what these events signify regarding the progress of race relations in this country.

In "71 Reasons to Believe in America" (May 12) Mr. Rowan chronicles the success stories of black seniors in Washington who have surmounted the obstacles faced by so many black young people, succeeded in school while maintaining jobs, and been accepted into prestigious colleges and universities.

For these young people their escape from circumstances that could easily have forced them down a different path is Project Excellence Inc., an organization founded by Mr. Rowan, of blacks and whites who are dedicated to the belief that educational opportunity for all youngsters is what will make the greatest impact on today's discordant society.

For those like me who are not public demonstrators but who have agonized about a way to insure that the horrors of the last month may contain the seeds of progress, supporting this project and those like it in Baltimore is a good beginning.

Robin Coblentz

Baltimore

Regulating Health Care Referrals

This letter is written in response to your April 4 "aromatic"

editorial regarding the bill to prohibit health care practitioners from referring patients to facilities in which they have a financial interest.

As a sponsor of the bill I take issue with your portrayal of this as special interest legislation to help the state's radiologists keep a monopoly on radiation therapy.

This bill was prompted by concern about the mounting evidence demonstrating an increase in referral patterns when health care practitioners own an interest in the facility to which they are referring.

A report from the U.S. inspector general found that 12 percent of physicians treating Medicare patients referred them to laboratories and clinics where they had a financial interest.

The study also found that some of those patients received twice as many services as did comparably diagnosed patients referred by other doctors without a financial interest.

A General Accounting Office study of Maryland physicians confirmed the inspector general's findings and went on to find that prices of diagnostic tests were also more expensive in Maryland facilities owned by physicians.

More recently, the Center for Health Policy Studies estimated that over-charges and over-utilization of physician-owned services add approximately $500 million to health care costs every year in Florida alone. The bill applied to all types of health care practitioners, not just physicians and certainly not just to companies performing radiation therapy.

While the bill did carve out an exception for radiologists who own diagnostic X-ray or imaging services, those services were required to be furnished by or under the supervision of that radiologist and in accordance with a referral or a consultation requested by another health care practitioner who did not have a beneficial interest in the services. This exception was narrowly drawn to reflect the fact that radiologists do not refer patients to themselves.

You stated that the bill would "directly bar one publicly owned company, Radiation Care Inc." in Maryland. Radiation Care Inc. would not however, be put out of business by this legislation.

The legislation only required those health care practitioners with an investment interest to either stop referring their patients to the facility or divest themselves of that interest.

They would be treated exactly the same as all other entities that came under the bill's purview, i.e., laboratories, pharmacies, home health agencies, rehabilitation facilities, nursing homes, physical therapy facilities, ambulatory surgical centers etc. If they truly wish to set up shop in Maryland, they should not depend on self-referral for their business.

Lawrence A. LaMotte

Baltimore

The writer represents a Baltimore and Carroll counties district in the House of Delegates.

Factual Discussion of Newspaper Tax

To foster a reasoned discussion of the elimination of the sales tax exemption for newspapers, we write to summarize our correspondence with Michael J. Davies, publisher of The Baltimore Sun.

As members of the fiscal leadership, we attended countless meetings on the state's budget crisis. At no time was there even an intimation that retribution for editorial criticism of the General Assembly was a motivation for our decision.

Mr. Davies, however, refers to a number of unnamed legislators who expressed a message that editorials critical of the legislature were resulting in continued focus on a sales tax. We would note that The Sun was a vocal proponent of raising taxes to maintain essential services.

A generally applicable tax, such as a sales tax, can constitutionally be applied to newspapers, the Supreme Court has held. Mr. Davies originally charged that "The new reader tax is, in The Sun's opinion, clearly unconstitutional." He has now written us, "We do not challenge the General Assembly's right to apply certain taxes to newspapers, on the same basis as to other businesses."

Magazine sales over the counter are already taxed in Maryland. In a case now before the Supreme Court, the justices are being asked to rule that a state may tax mail subscriptions of magazines published elsewhere. Should they do so, those subscriptions would be taxed, without further action by the General Assembly.

Mr. Davies wrote that state tax officials advised the General Assembly not to tax home delivery or rack sales because that would cost more to administer than the tax would generate in new revenues. No such testimony was ever provided by the state comptroller's office, according to Stephen M. Cordi, director of the sales and use tax division. Moreover, the General Assembly's non-partisan Department of Fiscal Services ranked the proposed repeal of the sales tax exemption for newspapers an "A" for highest priority because doing so would eliminate the inequity of taxing magazines but not newspapers.

Thousands of small, independent contractors deliver papers in Maryland. Mr. Davies writes that requiring publishers to assist the state in collecting taxes from them would "jeopardize their compliance with regulations of the Internal Revenue Service and the National Labor Relations Board." However, neighborhood delivery of newspapers is taxed in 10 other states, including California, home of the Los Angeles Times, which, like The Sun, is owned by the Times Mirror Co.

In addition, Mr. Cordi of the comptroller's office has met with Sun officials on several occasions to discuss simple and effective ways to collect the tax that are now used for sales generated by Avon door-to-door sales people.

Mr. Davies also charged that "special tax exemptions were created for free-distribution newspapers, publications that usually take no editorial positions or weak ones." Editorial policy aside, we believe it is self-evident that one does not collect a sales tax from a free publication since 5 percent of $0.00 is still $0.00.

No elected official likes to raise taxes. No industry likes to see its tax exemption eliminated. The people who pay the taxes are well served only by a reasoned and factual discussion of this issue.

Barbara Hoffman

Samuel I. Rosenberg

Baltimore

The writers are, respectively, a state senator and delegate from the 42nd legislative district.

Try Cable Television

Jim Vowles Jr. (letter, May 7) criticized George Will's critique of public broadcasting as an "upper middle-class entitlement." Mr. Vowles misses the point.

Mr. Vowles cites public broadcasting's pristine purity, offering "true diversity" and "an alternative to and criticism of the status quo," while teaching us "how to think independently."

Nonsense. True diversity is available on cable, from CNN's live coverage of international news, to Univision, the Spanish language channel. Better yet, skip television. Try reading.

The public broadcasting gems of Mr. Vowles are bizarre: "Doctor Who," "Eastenders," "The Frugal Gourmet," and "This Old House," which "cater to such bizarre special interest groups as science-fiction fans."

Fans with money. Note that "Star Trek," Mr. Vowles' example, was created without public money. Quality? Captain Picard versus Dr. Who? Get real. Diversity? No contest.

Choices create actions, and consequences. Cable and public broadcasting rely on an inherent evil -- government monopoly -- but we can reject cable.

Our tax dollars are appropriated for public broadcasting, the policy equivalent of cotton candy -- nice, but not necessary. Funding public broadcasting at the expense of critically important programs, like prenatal care and childhood immunization, is the moral equivalent of corruption.

The "audience of intellectuals" he mentions can make a difference by creating an agenda. For example, perform "Henry V" yourself, at your local college. Work for proper prenatal care. Or creative, effective, educational alternatives.

Self-serving surveys promote "Sesame Street" watchers as doing better in school and life. Nonsense.

Who are the best teachers? Parents. How did you learn to read? Probably in the laps of your parents, with their arms around you, supporting you from "My ABC Book" to "The Cat in the Hat."

Without public broadcasting, at no cost to taxpayers, you did better in school and life, learned to think independently, and equated learning with empowerment and love.

And I'll take that over Big Bird, any time.

Lawrence Wayne Caples

Baltimore

There's No Conflict Between Young and Old

A recent editorial, "Clawing through the 80's" (April 25) depicted the increasing numbers of elderly as competitors for money spent on educating our children.

Unfortunately, your editorial fosters the myth of an impending intergeneration conflict between the young and the old.

Although the elderly have made significant gains in their economic well-being, primarily because of Social Security benefits, eight percent remain near or below the government's official poverty line. Close to 43 percent of the elderly are considered "economically vulnerable."

The poverty rate for children reflects two things: the growing number of single-parent households and the growing number of women in lower-paying service jobs. Enforcement of child-support payments is also discouraging.

The real competition, however, is between rich and poor, blacks (along with other minorities) and whites, foreign and domestic spending, defense budgets and social programs, maintaining the status quo and seeking new ways to address serious social (( issues.

Richard Troy

Timonium

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