Gov. Harry Hughes, the leadership of the General Assembly and a major lobbying organization wrestled today over implementation of a planned jobs retraining program.
With the state's unemployed totaling 190,000, the battle centers around a new draft of a bill establishing a Jobs Retraining Partnership Act designed to carry out a federally funded program that will supply the state with about $3.6 million for job retraining beginning in October.
The original version of the bill was drafted by the Association of Catholic Charities at the request of House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin. It called for a mandatory match of the federal funds by the state, placed a cap on the amount of money any one county or Baltimore could receive from the program and put most of the responsibility for carrying out and monitoring the program in the hands of local governments.
The amended bill, put together by a subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee would eliminate the mandatory matching funds and the cap and put most of the authority for running the program in the hands of the 38-member Governor's Council and, to a lesser degree, the General Assembly.
This afternoon, moments after the new bill was explained to the Ways and Means Committee, Catholic Charities chief lobbyist Cheryl D. Lynch stormed from the committee room.
"This is a disgrace," she said. "What they have done here is gut the entire bill. This bill is nothing more than a rewrite of the federal regulations. Why bother if this is all you are going to do. We haven't seen any leadership on this issue from the governor's office or from the General Assembly. I think it's outrageous."
Lynch said Catholic Charities would not support the amended bill and added that she believed that the subcommittee had done its work at the direction of Hughes and Cardin. "There's been a lot of political maneuvering going on in this thing," she said.
Ben Bialek, the legislative liaison for Hughes who has worked on the bill, denied that politics was the governor's motive and insisted that the new bill was not that different from the old. "The only major difference is on the mandatory match and the governor doesn't think it's necessary because he's totally committed to this program to start with," Bialek said. "The governor's council is made up of local people anyway, so there's plenty of input there and on the cap it's too soon to set up formulas until we have more information."
Cardin met with Lynch, her co-lobbyist, Andy Carter, and representatives of local governments just prior to the session tonight and emerged saying: "The only thing we can't compromise on is the mandatory match, the state just won't do that. All the other things are negotiatable. I don't think we're that far apart."
Lynch, calmer after the meeting said, "We're meeting again Tuesday morning. The bottom line is, we'll see.