Schaefer's Shakeup Plans

October 02, 1990

Gov. William Donald Schaefer says he would like to reorganize parts of the state government if he wins a second term. So far, he has suggested five moves. Not one of them is a good idea.

The governor wants to break up the transportation and health departments because they are too big. He also wants to abolish the property assessment department and hand over that function to localities. These shakeups would make things worse, not better.

Mr. Schaefer proposes an independent port administration, aviation authority, Medicaid administration and Bureau of Communicable Diseases. All these new departments would require high-priced cabinet-level secretaries who would report directly to Mr. Schaefer. All of them would require expensive bureaucracies, too.

The benefits of consolidating agencies under a single umbrella would be lost. Instead, there would be separate personnel offices, purchasing offices, P.R. offices, budget offices -- and lots of extra office workers.

Removing the port agency from the Department of Transportation would be devastating. The agency is a money-loser. It would have a hard time competing for funds on its own. The airport might not fare any better, especially in a recession. Now these agencies can dip into DOT's consolidated trust fund. Pooling transportation revenue allows the state to set priorities for all travel modes -- roads, mass-transit, rail, air, water. the airport and port were independent, there'd be a return to the bad old days of transportation turf wars.

The governor's plans for the health department are equally illogical. Yes, Medicaid is a $1 billion program, but its staff is small (393 workers) and most of its money is carefully allocated by federal formula. What benefits would be gained by making it )) an independent department?

As for a special AIDS bureau, there's no reason that can't be done right away -- within the health department.

We're surprised Mr. Schaefer would suggest returning property assessments to the city and counties. He is well aware that the state took over this task because the localities botched the job. Assessments were uneven and subject to political manipulation. Now, assessments are uniform throughout Maryland. Tossing the matter back to the localities would be a mistake.

There are sound reasons why the state consolidated agencies within a small number of departments, and for the state's decision to take over the job of assessing property. If the governor's departments aren't performing well enough, the answer lies in new leadership, not reorganization.

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