The Year Ahead

January 01, 1991

What lies ahead for Maryland and the Baltimore region during the next 12 months? The Sun's editorial writers gazed into their crystal balls for a brief preview of local events we are likely to see in 1991.


With fiscal thunderstorms already lashing the state of Maryland, it could be a rainy and bleak 1991 for elected officials in the State House.

Both Gov. William Donald Schaefer and General Assembly leaders are uncomfortable with the program cuts needed to put the state's budget back in balance. But since no one is willing to raise the sales or income tax, the choices are limited to fiscal gimmickry or service reductions.

That's not how Mr. Schaefer wanted to begin his last term. Plans for upgrading state programs must be delayed. One area, though, where the governor does not want to delay is on transportation projects. These projects will stimulate the sagging economy and make Maryland more attractive for new economic development.

This means a higher gas tax. Legislators don't like the idea, though they have little choice if they want projects in their own districts to continue.

Discussion of major changes in state tax laws may start this year but won't conclude until 1992 at the earliest. However, a commission recommendation to impose statewide standards to limit suburban sprawl could find favor in Annapolis.

Baltimore City

The focus for the city this year ll be on the municipal elections. Councilmanic districts will be redrawn, creating controversy and encouraging large numbers of candidates to file. Meanwhile, a scramble is developing over who will succeed Comptroller Hyman A. Pressman, an institution for over a quarter-century as civic watchdog and master of ceremonial doggerel.

Although the primary is not till Sept. 12, time already is running short for those thinking of challenging Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke or City Council President Mary Pat Clarke. Both are sitting on hefty campaign treasuries.

Mayor Schmoke may have prevented major challenges by dumping Richard C. Hunter, the often-controversial school superintendent, just before Christmas. Baltimore now must find a new chief for its troubled schools, but the mayor can campaign on hopes and promises rather than on the school system's dismal record in his first term.

The same day he dumped Dr. Hunter, the mayor signed a bill that limits property tax increases in the city to 4 percent. That effectively removed an explosive issue which led to mean-spirited taxpayer revolts in neighboring counties.

A year ago, before the seriousness of recession was realized, several skyscraper projects had been announced for Baltimore's downtown. Many are now on hold, yet enough is being built to continue the renewal momentum.

Next to the The Block's porno shops and strip-tease clubs, a 30-story office tower is rising. Nearby, IBM is erecting another colossus. In Mount Vernon, a big apartment complex is moving toward completion; near Federal Hill, a 27-story water-view condominium tower soon will take shape.

Meanwhile, the new baseball stadium is transforming Camden Yards. Recession or not, downtown Baltimore will have a different look in 1991.

Anne Arundel County

A battle looms between Anne Arundel's government and its unions. Eleven separate labor contracts are up for negotiation this year in a subdivision where talks tend to be adversarial.

The new administration of Robert R. Neall, a tough-talking fiscal conservative with a wealth of experience, is already taking a hard line on pay raises: The county expects zero growth in 1992 revenues, so workers can expect zero in the way of wage hikes. The toughest discussions could be with the teacher's union, which wants a salary hike of at least 7 percent. It negotiates with the school board, not the executive.

Mr. Neall, noting that a 1 percent pay hike equals $4.7 million, says there is no way to give raises in one department without lopping the budget of another -- or laying off workers. Also endangered are existing benefit programs for county workers.

In Anne Arundel -- one of only a few jurisdictions in Maryland not facing a revenue shortfall -- avoiding layoffs may well hinge on the skill of union and government negotiators.

Baltimore County

The region's largest suburban county is likely to continue to feel reverberations from the taxpayer revolt which saw the incumbent county executive defeated in November and four new members elected to the county council. It was an unexpected Republican landslide that reflected demographic and political changes in a county which has lost much of its semi-rural character and where the population is either increasingly young or aging.

As the holiday season ends, so will the brief honeymoon for Republican County Executive Roger Hayden. His landslide victory vented some of the pent-up frustration in the county, but it did not resolve the gripes that led to the taxpayer revolt.

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