Constellation is left high and dry in the budget


Gov. Parris N. Glendening recommended yesterday that the General Assembly provide just one-fifth of the $3 million in state bond money sought by Baltimore lawmakers to begin repairs to the 142-year-old sloop of war Constellation.

"You have to understand we received requests for $125 million worth of projects, and could only budget $12.5 million," said Dianna Rosborough, the governor's press secretary. "But we are supporting the project and plan to continue supporting the project in the future."

The $600,000 recommended by the governor disappointed the Constellation Foundation, which was reconstituted last summer to save the rotting 1853 warship, berthed in the Inner Harbor.

"I hate to sound like an ungrateful beggar, but it's like throwing a drowning man a half a life jacket," said Louis F. Linden, the foundation's executive director. He said the foundation would lobby lawmakers to consider "the critical nature of the situation with the ship, and the critical nature of the state funding. It is the linchpin of the deal."

"If $600,000 is what we get, the board will have to sit down and look at the resources and condition of the ship and determine where we go from here," he said.

The foundation has mapped out plans to place the ship in dry-dock for $9 million in repairs, to be completed in time for Baltimore's bicentennial in 1997.

The City Council has resolved to provide $3 million in bond money if Baltimore voters approve a ballot question next fall. But that money would not become available until late 1996. The $3 million in state money was to have provided the immediate financing needed to move the ship into dry dock and begin repairs.

The rest of the financing was to have come from private foundations, corporate and individual giving. But without full support from the state, Mr. Linden said, the private money may not materialize.

He said work should not begin until the foundation has $3 million in hand -- from whatever sources -- for the acquisition of adequate labor and materials.

The governor's recommendation is not binding. But lawmakers may welcome any reason to make cuts.

"The job will not be an easy one," said Del. Richard N. Dixon, a Carroll Democrat, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee's capital budget subcommittee, which will set priorities on the bond initiatives during the coming week.

On the Senate side, the work is being done by the Budget and Taxation Committee's capital budget subcommittee, chaired by Sen. William H. Amoss, D-Harford/Cecil.

The legislature can vote to exceed the governor's recommended $12.5 million. Last year, William Donald Schaefer proposed $15 million in such requests, and the assembly approved $21.8 million.

Mr. Linden said he understands the lawmakers' dilemma. Hearings last week included volunteer firefighters who are "working out of a station built in 1932 that has no heat and hot water. But they will still be around to ask for money again next year. I don't know that the ship will."

As boat activity in the Inner Harbor has increased with better weather, he said, the amount of water being pumped from the leaky ship has increased from 900 gallons a day to 2,400 gallons.

On Monday, a team of experts from the Naval Historical Center in Boston is expected to begin a federally financed inspection of the Constellation at the Constellation Dock. Work will include extensive shoring of the ship with cables to stabilize it while the foundation continues its quest for money.

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