New-Look Legislature

November 08, 1990

When Gov. William Donald Schaefer takes the oath of office for a second time, he will find far fewer friendly faces among the crowd of state legislators. The General Assembly that voters selected on Tuesday is more Republican, more conservative and less likely to give the governor a blank check to embark on expansive programs.

Mr. Schaefer had hoped to emerge from the Nov. 6 balloting with a giant landslide that would sweep into office General Assembly candidates he had endorsed and pave the way for easy passage of his action agenda. Instead, Mr. Schaefer suffered the embarrassment of losing 12 of Maryland's 24 subdivisions. He owed his 200,000-vote victory almost exclusively to big Democratic majorities rung up in just three subdivisions -- Montgomery and Prince George's counties and Baltimore City.

That's hardly the mandate the governor sought for his final four-year term in Annapolis. Nor could he be pleased that so many friendly legislators were rejected: Howard Sen. Edward Kasemeyer; Washington Sen. Patricia Cushwa; Baltimore County Dels. Michael Gisriel, Bill Burgess and Donna Felling; Harford Dels. Bill Cox and Joe Lutz. The 1991-1995 General Assembly will have a forbidding new look.

Given the depth of voter disgust with high taxes, rampant growth and government overspending, newly elected lawmakers will view with skepticism Mr. Schaefer's upcoming initiatives. Grandiose construction plans and massive social service expansion won't be on their priority list. Nor will new taxing schemes proposed by the Linowes commission. Even the expected plan to raise gasoline taxes to build new roads and mass-transit lines could encounter tough going -- and may have to be smaller than anticipated.

The governor would be wise to heed the voters' message and focus efforts next year on fine-tuning existing programs and paring unneeded expenses -- and bureaucracy. At the same, he must find ways to forge ties to freshmen legislators and educate them on the need to help Maryland's economically depressed subdivisions before problems get out of hand. He also has to push ceaselessly for a revised tax structure as the best way to meet voter anger over high property tax bills.

Governor Schaefer has his work cut out for him. Next year's legislature, chastened by angry voters, could make life difficult for him. But that is the mountain he will have to climb if he wants to make his second term as memorable as the first four Schaefer years.

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