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Health official, state bicker over money for drug treatment

City Health Commissioner Dr. Peter L. Beilenson is at odds with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and his staff over a claim that the governor has increased drug treatment funds for Baltimore.

Both sides agree that the city will get about $48.7 million from the state to treat drug addicts this fiscal year, which began last month.

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Both sides agree on how they got to that amount: the governor took $1.2 million from the city's drug treatment programs last year, then pledged to give that money back to the city in this year's budget, and last week decided to give back only half of it, or $600,000.

But they disagree on what the complicated addition and subtraction really means.

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To the Ehrlich team, it means the city has more money to treat drug addicts this year than it did last year, so the governor has kept a campaign promise to increase spending on drug treatment in Baltimore.

"The end result is the city of Baltimore is $600,000 ahead," said J.B. Hansen, a spokesman for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. "So that's an increase."

"That's like Through the Looking Glass. That's Alice in Wonderland stuff," Beilenson said. "The bottom line is we're getting less than we were led to believe by the governor we were going to get. Period."

Beilenson said the city Health Department will be able to treat 614 fewer drug addicts than planned this year. "This is a true $600,000 cut no matter how you spin it," he said.

The fiscal give-and-take is a response to the state's budget deficit, a part of which Ehrlich inherited from former Gov. Parris N. Glendening when he took office in January. In the spring, Ehrlich ordered state agencies to look for cuts to keep the deficit down.

Hansen said officials at the state health department decided Baltimore could do with $1.2 million less in drug treatment funds - part of $49.2 million allocated by Glendening for fiscal 2003 - that had not yet been spent.

Ehrlich approved that cut, Hansen said, but put the $1.2 million back in his 2004 budget.

"All along, [state officials] told us, 'Guys, don't decrease your spending because you're going to get your money back,'" Beilenson said.

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Last week, as part of another set of cost-cutting moves, Ehrlich proposed reducing that $1.2 million to $600,000, and the Board of Public Works agreed. At the time, Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell said the governor had kept his campaign promise to give Baltimore more money to treat drug addicts.


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