Schaefer as Big Spender

October 18, 1990

Republican gubernatorial nominee William S. Shepard has regularly taken Democrat William Donald Schaefer to task as a big-spending, uncaring governor who favors splashy construction projects over people programs. Mr. Shepard has accused the incumbent of bringing on "an economic Dunkirk" with his free-spending ways, ignoring warning signs flashed by legislators.

Much of this is election-year rhetoric. But there is some truth, too. The governor has embarked on large-scale projects. He has pushed hard for a raft of building programs and short-changed some social programs. He has been remiss in demanding frugality from his administration.

Mr. Shepard errs, though, in dismissing these projects as glitzy baubles and accusing Mr. Schaefer of misdirected priorities.

Yes, the governor commenced large construction jobs, such as the Baltimore-area light-rail line and the sports stadium complex. Yet there were strong economic motives Mr. Shepard overlooks. The light-rail line offers a realistic alternative to clogged highways. It will spur development along its 27 miles, especially in Hunt Valley and at BWI Airport. It makes the city's large job pool accessible to suburban employers.

The stadium project already is being praised as a baseball landmark. It is a certain tourist draw and should spur commercial development west of the harbor. That's the kind of long-range benefit which justifies an undertaking of this magnitude.

Still, the governor failed to exercise financial restraint. He failed to get firm cost figures before plunging into these adventures. Consequently, the stadiums and the light-rail line are wildly over budget and subject to harsh political criticism. Better management could have avoided these pitfalls.

No, Mr. Schaefer has not given people programs a low priority. The governor's concern for the state's underprivileged is indisputable. There just isn't enough money to fully finance every worthy undertaking. If the governor has erred, it is in trying to do too much in too many areas. State money was spread around too thinly.

The Schaefer administration has its flaws. It could use some constructive criticism. At the same time, Mr. Shepard's spurious charges should not go uncorrected. That's why an exchange of views between the two candidates for governor is essential. Mr. Schaefer's insistence on ignoring the issues -- and Mr. Shepard -- may be smart politics, but it ill serves Maryland's voters.

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