SATURDAY MAILBOX

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Deal-making, bullying mark Ehrlich 'change'

The recent wrangling in Annapolis has pitted Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and his administration against powerful foes, some previously considered to be his friends.

As the administration worked to secure votes, during its ultimately unsuccessful fight for Lynn Y. Buhl to lead the Department of the Environment, representatives of the administration were willing to promise anything in exchange for votes ("Looking to make a deal for Buhl," March 7).

The debate was also tinged with threats suggesting that falling out of favor with the governor now would result in difficult times ahead for those elected officials. The ultimate threat was that if Ms. Buhl was not confirmed, Kendl P. Philbrick might continue to serve as acting secretary, with the implication that this would be even more harmful for the environment.

The debate over the introduction of slot machines at racetracks has been another example of an administration that appears to be overwhelmed by circumstances.

The proposal has changed as each potential beneficiary has weighed in for a piece of the pie. With each new entrant in the debate, the demands become more outrageous, diminishing the potential earnings for education, whittling away at the promised effect of lowering the budget deficit, and disregarding the needs of potentially affected communities.

The governor's lowest act to date has been a blatant attempt to shield the true percentages to be realized by each of the stakeholders in his most recent proposal by obscuring the true figures.

During his campaign, Mr. Ehrlich promised to bring to an end to the "culture of corruption" in Annapolis. Far from changing the culture and process of state legislative debate, the current administration has resorted to blatant bullying, overt deal-making, and obscuring the truth.

Perhaps the change introduced by the governor and his advisers has been to bring the true nature of the political process out in the open for all to see.

Aaron I. Schneiderman

Baltimore

Democrats' ploys must be stopped

After reading the article on Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. considering tax hikes to get the budget through ("Ehrlich appears open to tax boost," March 13), we have to ask ourselves if the Democratic House thinks the people of Maryland are stupid and can't see what they are trying to do.

For the past eight years during the Parris and Kathleen show, Maryland went from having a surplus of cash to being in the red. The Democrats built this deficit, and now it's up to Bob and Michael to resolve the issue. However, each and every time they come up with a solution, the Democrats try and thwart their actions.

First they decided to fight Mr. Ehrlich's effort to bring slots into Maryland. The Democrats say that slots would prey on the poor, yet we have Keno and Lotto in almost every convenience and liquor store in the state. No one is forcing anyone to gamble. People will do it regardless of where or how. So why not derive some benefit out of it for the state?

Second, they're attempting to make it look like Mr. Ehrlich is raising taxes. This scheme should blow up in their faces.

Maryland has one of the highest property tax rates in the country, and all raising it would do is make the Pennsylvania and Virginia suburbs look more and more appealing to those considering a move.

I will strongly look at those people who pushed for this tax hike when voting day rolls around.

Mark Zivkovich

Baltimore

State plan favors roads over rail

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. needs to realize that he did not win the election because we Marylanders suddenly decided that our state is not polluted enough, needs more and more highways, and does not need rail transit. He won because his opponent was weak and chose bad advisers. He has no mandate for a far-right agenda.

To claim a balance between highways and transit by requesting twice as much money for highways is typical of road proponents. To them, "balance" means, "We'll build transit when we have finished all the highways we want" ("State requests U.S. funding for city transit plan," March 14).

The Baltimore Region Rail System Plan has been enthusiastically received by the public, private citizens and the business community alike, because we realize the city and the region must have rail to thrive. Buses, no matter how technologically advanced, cannot win riders and cut costs as light rail does.

In Montgomery County, citizens have worked long and hard to stop the Intercounty Connector (an environmental and transportation disaster) while obtaining wide public support for a light-rail Purple Line that would provide transportation at the lowest possible environmental and financial cost. To change the name to "Transitway" so bus rapid transit could be considered is a real slap in the face for citizens and officials in that county.

It is my hope that Governor Ehrlich will implement policies to improve Maryland, making our air and water cleaner, but I have seen nothing in his actions so far to achieve such goals. He seems passionate only about slots, highways and stopping rail transit.

George Tyson

Baltimore

The writer is president of the Baltimore Area Transit Association.

Employ slots, not new taxes

I see that the Democrats are playing distasteful politics with slots and taxes ("Merger of slots, tax rise weighed," March 2). But as a Maryland Democrat, I am in favor of slots and absolutely opposed to raising taxes.

Maryland loses millions each year to neighboring states because they have slots. And the argument that "it's gambling so it's wrong" is absurd. We already have a state-sponsored lottery that is available at every corner store that sucks the money out of those who can least afford it. Where is the outrage over that?

We, the citizens of Maryland, live under an artificial budget because of the way taxes eat at our income. Yet every time the state comes up short, rather than cutting back programs, state officials raise our taxes.

Personally, I've reached the point where I'm willing to let so-called "vital programs" be shut down rather than see taxes raised.

Marylanders didn't elect Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. just because Kathleen Kennedy Townsend was a lousy candidate. They did it because they want a change in thinking in Annapolis.

The old "tax-and-spend" mentality just doesn't make for happy constituents these days.

D. Keith Henderson

Baltimore

Slots can limit taxes and fund services

The Baltimore City Chamber of Commerce supports Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s plan to place slots at four racetracks. This decision was based on a number of factors.

After having a surplus, the state is now facing a deficit of more than a billion dollars as it prepares its 2004 budget. The prospect of a significant tax increase and huge budget cuts required to balance the budget will only put extra burdens on the citizens and business community as we are struggling to pull out of a recession.

While slots may not be the total answer to our budget woes, they can greatly mitigate the need for tax increases and fund necessary services.

Millions of dollars are leaving Maryland each year and going to slot machines in surrounding areas. It is only common sense to try to keep those Marylanders at our racetracks instead of letting them go to Delaware, West Virginia and, soon, probably Pennsylvania.

We also believe the horse racing industry is a Maryland institution worth saving. The industry employees 15,000 people and generates $600 million in direct economic activity in this state.

Finally, the chamber supports a healthy portion of profits from slots coming back to the communities they impact. The final legislation also needs to anticipate the impact on the infrastructure of the surrounding communities - including traffic, parking and safety.

With slots, we expect to see the Pimlico commercial district and surrounding communities once again a vibrant and thriving place to live and work.

Sonny Morstein Mark Luterman Baltimore

The writers are co-chairmen of the Public Policy Committee of the Baltimore City Chamber of Commerce.

Don't forget crisis in housing for poor

In an editorial late last year on Maryland's low-income housing market, The Sun pointed out that nearly half of the state's 35,000 low-income units may soon be lost as landlords opt out of Section 8 housing, including the 900-unit Uplands Apartments in West Baltimore ("Low-income housing crisis," Dec. 27).

"Until more low-income housing becomes available, the social consequences could be devastating," the editorial warned. "Some families that lose their shelter may end up on the skids. Maryland is neglecting the coming crisis at its own peril because the consequences of dislocation are not going to be pretty: more poverty, hopelessness and crime."

But in The Sun's editorial "Opportunity at Uplands" (Feb. 23) that concern, apparently, evaporated.

Calling the loss of 900 apartments for low-income Baltimoreans "a rare development opportunity that should not be squandered," The Sun urged the city to find "an imaginative developer" to turn the 46-acre Uplands site "into a desirable neighborhood of single-family homes as well as townhouses, market-rate rentals as well as subsidized ones."

But as the earlier editorial pointed out, 43 percent of tenants with Section 8 vouchers in Baltimore can't find landlords to accept them. Yet The Sun now seems to suggest that poor people be sacrificed to mixed-income development.

The Sun got it right the first time. Reducing the number of subsidized units at any future development of Uplands, without a commitment to replace those units at Uplands or other sites within the city, will only exacerbate the low-income housing crisis.

Gregory L. Countess

Baltimore

The writer is assistant director of advocacy for housing and community economic development at the Legal Aid Bureau.

Some drug treatment links church, state

Former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke should know better than to advocate state involvement in treatment of addiction ("Time for new tactics in costly drug war," Opinion*Commentary, Feb. 25).

Addiction treatment providers strive to change the way people think about themselves. But the state has no business inside its citizens' heads. When the state gets involved in treating people for addiction, it entangles itself with religion. And when courts order someone into treatment for addiction they violate the First Amendment.

This is because treatment for addiction meets the legal criteria of a religious activity: The programs involve tenets to guide one's daily life and use rituals similar to religious rituals. Belief in a supreme being or "higher power" is not necessary for an activity to be religious.

Mr. Schmoke's unconstitutional proposal is a problem masquerading as a cure. The only solution to the drug "problem" is to repeal prohibition in its entirety.

Jeffrey A. Schaler

Silver Spring

The writer teaches psychology at Johns Hopkins University and drug policy at American University.

With right approach, dyslexics can learn

Thank you for informing readers of the plight of public school students with dyslexia ("The invisible dyslexics," editorial, Feb. 24). I agree that the earlier these students are identified, the greater their prospects for success in reading and other school activities.

Fortunately, courses such as the one I teach to teachers at Towson University are preparing teachers to recognize students with dyslexia and to use multisensory approaches to teach them.

Private schools have used these teaching techniques for years. Their students benefit not only from appropriately trained teachers but from small class sizes.

As The Sun noted, "Effective early treatment costs money."

Let us respond to reports such as the one from the Abell Foundation with a fervent call for the smaller classes needed to teach students with dyslexia.

Only with adequate funding for the necessarily low teacher-pupil ratio can public schools meet their needs.

Gael R. Macnamara

Baltimore

U.S. Steel offers pension lesson

In "The bear ate the surplus in U.S. Steel pension fund" (March 13), the often recurring situation of a pension fund with a humongous surplus watching it dissipate in stock market decline is sadly presented.

This is a teaching moment. How does this happen? How does a pension fund go from a $1.2 billion surplus to an underfunded status of $400 million?

A company spokesman rightly claims that other pension funds have done the same. Individuals experience similar meltdowns. And all of this may be because the most simplistic of investment tenets is not proclaimed loudly enough.

Any investment professional understands that a straightforward procedure known as an immunized bond portfolio exists for locking up investment returns.

In essence, bonds are bought so that a fund's future stream of liability payments are matched by bond interest and principal payments.

So why didn't pension funds move toward locking up at least a portion of their gains as they moved into a surplus position?

This question moves us into the realm of human nature. For one thing, an immunized bond portfolio is definitely not sexy. It definitely will not hold people's attention as will a review of the most recent IPO purchase that tripled on the day of issuance. It is nowhere nearly as interesting as reciting the performance and list of well-heeled investors in the esoteric hedge fund you are considering.

Second, pension funds, like most in the investment arena, follow the crowd. They all tend to go for the exotic together. They are deathly afraid of missing out on the gold rush and having to explain why they aren't producing returns of 20 percent like other funds, so over the cliff they go.

This wouldn't be so sad except that they all have plan documents that specify as clearly as legalese possibly can that their primary objective is to act as a prudent man in managing the fund's assets to fund liabilities, i.e. retirees' promised payments.

A third reason pension funds fail to act appropriately is that, believe it or not, many pension fund trustees are lawyers and know absolutely zilch about investments. I rest my case on this point by directing your attention to exhibit A: the Maryland Pension Fund and its embarrassing fiascoes. Anyone who has managed money professionally for institutions will tell you that aside from doctors, lawyers are the absolute worst. There is a well-known saying that ignorance is when you don't know something but you don't know you don't know it. It applies here.

Pensioners should be asking questions and examining the credentials and motives of those making the decisions. For after all, it is the pensioners' present and future, and the taxpayers who ultimately pay.

Robert Wasilewski

Glenelg

Freedom fries are just a start

What will the lawmakers on Capitol Hill think of next? The congressional cafeteria menu changed the names of French fries and French toast to "freedom fries" and "freedom toast." This will somehow bring the rest of the world to our banner in the disarming of Iraq if we simply show the world how wrong the French are by changing the names of everything French to "freedom."

With these two leading the way, I think we can push through legislation to have the following "alternate" names out there:

That poofy little dog will now be called a freedom poodle.

The condiment company will now be making Freedom's mustard.

Those guys from Montreal will be referred to as Freedom Canadians.

All copies of the movie Grease will be recalled and replaced with sound editing changing Didi Conn's character's name to Freedomy.

There are many more examples of how we can stick it to those nasty French and show them just how unhappy we are with them.

When this is all said and done, we'll all meet in New Orleans and have a big party in the Freedom Quarter! It's a happening place for parties.

And remember, if you have your girlfriend or boyfriend with you, to celebrate our cause by giving them a great big freedom kiss!

Don Prather

Baltimore

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