Mayor Martin O'Malley has launched a campaign to preserve a $9 million increase in drug treatment money for Baltimore that legislative analysts have proposed cutting from the state budget.
In a flurry of 12,000 e-mail messages yesterday, O'Malley called on community and business leaders to write letters to persuade the General Assembly to retain the entire $9 million that Gov. Parris N. Glendening included in his budget proposal for next year.
The mayor said he recognized that money is tight, but contended that some lawmakers appear more concerned about pleasing voters with such measures as a tax cut than protecting the lives of Maryland's citizens.
"People are dying," O'Malley said. "The final year of a tax cut seems to be more important than drug treatment dollars."
O'Malley credits the drug treatment program with, among other things, decreasing drug-related deaths from violence and overdoses in the city from 628 in 1999 to 502 in 2001.
The Department of Legislative Services recommended that the $9 million increase be cut from the state budget for fiscal 2003, which will begin July 1, after an analysis of Baltimore's budget indicated that the city has reduced what it spends on drug treatment.
Although eliminating the entire $9 million appears unlikely, the recommendation prompted a Senate Budget and Taxation subcommittee late Thursday to discuss reducing the amount to less than $4 million.
Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr., the subcommittee chairman, said his panel did not act on that suggestion.
But he said lawmakers want to ensure that the city maintains its commitment to drug treatment funding, just as it is calling on the state to do.
"We think drug treatment is effective," said Van Hollen, a Montgomery County Democrat.
Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, who heads the Budget and Taxation Committee, said a cut in the proposed $9 million might be inevitable because of the state's economic constraints.
But she said she believes the city will likely receive a $7 million increase for fiscal 2003 and get the remainder in the next two years.
"We don't want to cut any of it," said Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat. "But nobody's going to be unscathed."
O'Malley said Hoffman's recommendation "would almost be a win, if that is the end result."
The mayor said the city maintains its commitment to drug treatment and will continue funding at the level it has during the past three years.
The city spends about $2 million of its own money on drug treatment.
City officials said local spending for drug treatment was inaccurately presented to state analysts because the city changed the way it reported federal and private money given to Baltimore.
Officials said the change gave the impression that funding from sources other than the state had decreased, when it has increased from $4.9 million in fiscal year 2000 to $10.8 million this year.
The state currently spends $36.2 million for drug treatment and prevention in the city. The budget proposal is to increase that amount to $45.2 million.
O'Malley said the drug treatment money tops his list of legislative priorities because it is critical to fighting crime.