- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 28, 2002

ANNAPOLIS (AP) Aiming to close the state's $1.8 billion budget shortfall, Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s transition team has asked all state agencies for an inventory of their assets, including buildings and land.
The Republican governor-elect plans to look for assets that could be sold or leased to raise money and rebuild the state's tax rolls.
"We asked for the inventory with an eye for identifying what the state owns," said Steven L. Kreseski, Mr. Ehrlich's chief of staff. "At a later date, a decision will be made as to if the property is being used in the best way for the state of Maryland."
Sources on Mr. Ehrlich's transition team told the Baltimore Sun that he believes hundreds of millions of dollars could be raised by selling assets ranging from underused parcels of land to the 28-story William Donald Schaefer Tower on St. Paul Street in downtown Baltimore.
"All options are on the table once the inventory is complete," said Ehrlich spokesman Henry Falwell.
But Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and some environmental leaders urged caution.
"I have a little advice for them," Mr. Schaefer said. "Be careful what they sell."
Mr. Schaefer said some buildings, including the William Donald Schaefer Tower, are cost-efficient because they save the state the expense of having to pay rent for office space.
The former governor and Baltimore mayor also predicted that Mr. Ehrlich will face stiff criticism if he tries to unload parkland or other tracts that preserve open space.
"If they try to sell parkland, they will run into a double buzz saw," said Mr. Schaefer, who has been a frequent critic of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's land purchases. "They will have a big fight on their hands and I would oppose it, too. I want to help Ehrlich, but they've got to be careful what they do."
During the campaign, Mr. Ehrlich pledged to raise $5 million by selling the state airplane used by the governor, the state's 114-foot yacht and two of the state's luxury skyboxes at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
But as the grim reality of the state's fiscal situation sets in, the Ehrlich camp is searching for other state assets.
The state owns about 60 million square feet of office space and tens of thousands of acres of land some of which is highly sought by developers.
"There is no question we are in frugal times and austere times and everything has to be looked at specifically," said state Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, a Lower Eastern Shore Republican who is advising Mr. Ehrlich on budget issues.
Fiscal analysts estimate the state faces a $1.8 billion budget shortfall over the next 18 months. Maryland's overall budget is about $21 billion, but the deficit applies mostly to the $10.5 billion general-funds portion that goes to pay for most state services.
Mr. Ehrlich has ruled out raising income or sales taxes to address the shortfall, meaning he will have to cut state programs drastically or find other revenue sources, especially if the General Assembly blocks the legalization of slot machines at Maryland racetracks.
Democratic legislative leaders have said they support Mr. Ehrlich's decision to look at liquidating some state assets.
"When you've got as big of a deficit as we have, you've got to be looking at every single thing," said Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, a Charles County Democrat and incoming chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. "You may find you have a lot of state-owned land that serves no purpose, and it would make sense to sell."
But environmental leaders caution that it would be a mistake to sell land designed to protect natural resources.
"I think there could be places where selling some state property makes sense," said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1000 Friends of Maryland. "But I also hope [the parcels] are looked at really carefully in a number of different ways to make sure we are not selling off something that should be kept for future citizens of the state."

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