ANNAPOLIS – A day after General Motors Corp. announced the closing of its Baltimore Broening Highway plant and the loss of 1,100 jobs, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer chastised Gov. Robert Ehrlich Wednesday, saying he should have seen the end coming.
“I blame you for not having a plan,” Schaefer told Ehrlich in the middle of his tirade at a Board of Public Works meeting.
“You don’t know how to give them a kick,” Schaefer said later, calling the governor “too nice” in his negotiations to try to keep the plant in business. “You should have given them a big, swift kick in the you-know-where.”
Ehrlich said the state worked long and hard to stop what proved to be an inevitability.
“Every day for eight years in the Congress when the phone would ring and it would be GM, we worried,” Ehrlich said, referring to his time representing Maryland in the U.S. House of Representatives. “We continually sweetened the pot . . . (but) the sweeteners were not good enough any longer.”
Schaefer did not buy Ehrlich’s explanations, and the governor and other state workers took the brunt of his frustration.
“Where in the hell were you yesterday?” Schaefer demanded of Budget and Management Secretary James “Chip” DiPaula Jr. Schaefer pointed at DiPaula several times during the meeting, each time blaming him for a problem.
“My job is not to put a good face on things – it’s to face reality,” Schaefer said after Ehrlich spoke of his hope for finding jobs for the plant’s workers, and a use for the 182-acre facility. “To say I was disappointed (with the announcement) is putting it mildly.”
GM spokesman Stefan Weinmann said it was “premature” to speculate what would happen to the site, but GM had “every intention” of working with the government.
Schaefer was especially angry with the way the plant closing was announced – Ehrlich found out Tuesday at 11 a.m., the same time as the plant workers. He said Ehrlich was caught by surprise, and should have realized GM’s guarantees it would stay were only good for as long as the plant stayed profitable.
“(GM negotiators) conned you the way I can con you,” Schaefer told Ehrlich, who sat next to him quietly, with a solemn look on his face. Schaefer later added, “They stayed here because there was a profit here – they didn’t stay one day later.”
Weinmann said Schaefer’s interpretation of events was unfounded, and that “all the government officials were notified at the appropriate time, as were any other stakeholders,” such as workers and managers.
The Baltimore GM plant will close sometime next year.
Ehrlich said many of the 1,100 workers will be eligible for retirement, and Maryland will work to help the remaining workers find new jobs. One possibility is GM’s Allison Transmission plant in White Marsh, which Department of Business and Economic Development spokesman Dyer Bell called “the shining star of GM’s operation.”
Bell said that while the Broening Highway plant loss was a “shock to the state,” its economic effects should not be too severe or long-lasting. Maryland’s low unemployment rate of 4.1 percent – a full point lower than the national average – means employers are looking for workers, he said.
“As far as numbers go, we’re operating at almost a 100 percent full-employment economy,” Bell said.
In other action, the board also apologized and awarded $1.4 million to Michael Austin, of Baltimore, who spent 27 years in prison after being wrongly convicted of murder. Austin spoke briefly, saying he was thankful for the money, but had moved on and was happy to be living a free life again.
“It’s important to me at this point,” he said, “to try to go on with my life and be positive.” – 30 – CNS-11-17-04