ANNAPOLIS – The Board of Public Works has often been a battleground for Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Gov. Parris N. Glendening, but on Wednesday it was Treasurer Richard Nixon calling Schaefer a “quirky clown” for his meeting antics.
“I’m embarrassed by him acting like a quirky clown,” Dixon said after Schaefer opened the meeting complaining, again, about Glendening administration overspending.
“You just took another swing at me and I’ll continue to show you why,” Schaefer shot back. “I got the other ones for you, too,” he said, referring to the questions he has been asking about Glendening’s budget.
The three public officials – Glendening, Schaefer and Dixon – compose the public works board, which approves state spending. On Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend took Glendening’s place on the board.
Glendening announced last week that $65 million in capital projects will be deferred from this year’s budget to find money to pay for soaring security costs resulting from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Schaefer has questioned capital spending as well as the Medicaid funding crisis – the health care funding shortfall, including Medicaid, is expected to exceed $500 million by the end of the next fiscal year. He also has concerns about the drop in income and sales tax revenues.
Land preservation purchases came under Schaefer’s scrutiny Wednesday, as he pointedly included the word “quirky” in most questions he asked.
Schaefer declined to vote on one piece of land purchased on Douglas Point in Charles County because the $6 million price tag was too high.
“It’s easy to spend. It’s tough to say no,” Schaefer said.
The Douglas Point property is important because it is some of the most ecologically valuable land in the state, said John Surrick, spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources.
“The governor has made it clear that protecting land is a priority,” he said.
A $250,000 plan to preserve land for rare orchids in Frederick County also was questioned by Schaefer. The comptroller said that was too expensive for the 382 acres to preserve a rare strand of orchid that only grows in one other part of the state.
The orchid, which only blooms one day a year, is one of the many rare plants on the property, said property manager Robert Strasser, caretaker of the grounds, owned by the Catoctin Quaker Camp.
“I understand the controversy” over spending priorities, Strasser said, but “if you happen on one piece of land that is singularly outstanding because of its size and diversity of plants than it’s justifiable” to spend the money.
– 30 – CNS-10-24-01