When the Maryland House of Delegates opens its new office building in Annapolis next year, the place might look a bit more pedestrian, thanks to some bargain hunting by two top state officials.
Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) and Comptroller William Donald Schaefer (D) signed off on a $2.1 million furniture purchase yesterday, but not before winning concessions from House leaders.
House members agreed to strip the designer label from 276 desk chairs, 192 stackable chairs and 48 tables, and instead have those items made by State Use Industries, a state-run firm that relies on prison labor.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) had resisted the prison-made furniture at first, saying that it was "very nice" but did not meet the aesthetic standards of a discerning House membership.
But at a meeting two weeks ago, Ehrlich and Schaefer recoiled at the cost of the furniture on order, including desks at $1,972 each.
"They want to build a Taj Mahal. . . ," Schaefer snapped. "That's not right. It's not right."
"This is not right," Ehrlich agreed. "And on my watch, we're not going to approve something that isn't right."
Then -- in their capacity as members of the Board of Public Works, the three-member panel that must sign off on all major state purchases -- the two voted to reject the contract. A dissent came from Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp (D), who described the proposed purchase as "fiscally prudent."
Two weeks later came the thaw. With the prison furniture ordered, Ehrlich and Schaefer praised House leaders for their willingness to compromise, even though the price of the new furniture plan was not dramatically lower than the original request. (Now, $283,572 worth of items will come from State Use Industries, while $1.8 million of the original order will stand).
"This is simply a common-sense resolution to our discussion," Ehrlich said.