Md. Outlook: More Doom, Gloom

'Do It Now' Reverts To Wait And See

January 13, 1991|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff writer

HUNT VALLEY — Remember "Do it now," William Donald Schaefer's only way of doing business?

Well, forget it.

Thanks to the current economic morass that has settled over most of the Northeast, talk in Annapolis -- and in county seats throughout Maryland -- is one of slowing down, changing gears and girding for tough times.

And if what officials from the state's 23 counties and Baltimore City heard at the Marriott Hunt Valley resort here at the end of the week is any indication, the slogan in vogue in Maryland government is, "Don't do business as usual."

During the three-day Maryland Association of Counties conference here, practically everybodysaid it. Those five words were on the lips of the governor, the lieutenant governor, numerous county executives, the secretary of transportation, tax commission head R. Robert Linowes and on and on.

Even the Carroll County Commissioners were saying it -- if ever so quietly.

"While there is still an element of 'Do it now,' I think there is diminution of fervor," said Commissioner Vice President Elmer C. Lippy Jr. "Yes, there is definitely a trend to do things differently."

Commissioner Julia W. Gouge -- who, in her first term, was an advocate of getting even expensive projects done quickly -- agrees.

"I think that's the way the state is going," she said Friday morning. "And I think that is the way the county is going."

What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time, the commissioners -- as well as the governor -- were sitting on comfortable budget surpluses.

The commissioners were pushing for new schools, new roads, new programs and new buildings. The governor was stressing the Camden Yards stadium, light-rail transportation and international trade missions.

Now, the commissioners are $3 million short for the current fiscal year, while the state is in the hole by almost $430 million.

And while an element of immediacy pervades state and local government, most of that urgency is attached to ways to cut -- cut budgets, cut programs, cut jobs.

"I suppose we'll begin seeing more cuts," said Commissioner President Donald I. Dell. "And though I think Carroll will weather this fairly well, I think the right word for right now is recession."

During the conference, county officials were lobbied hard on tax reform, planning guidelines and education revisions.

"We cannot afford to be dormant on these tax issues for much longer," said R. Robert Linowes, chairman of the Governor's Commission on State Taxes and Tax Structure. "The future of Maryland is at stake."

On education, the message to the 400 county officials at the conference wasthe same.

"We're coming into the 21st century, ladies and gentlemen," said Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg. "And we had better at least be prepared for the 20th century. Because, right now, we're not."

Even the governor, who addressed the convention Thursday night, was noticeably less positive than in years past.

"I detected a little more gloom in the governor's speech," said Lippy. "He wasn't smiling, and he wasn't saying 'Do it now' a whole lot."

This marks a big change for the man who forged ahead with Harborplace, the National Aquarium, the Metro and light rail. That change is sweeping through all levels of government.

"Just look at the issues being addressed -- the Linowes tax report, the 2020 Commission's limits on growth -- and the governor's new thrust becomes obvious," officials say.

"You know, every problem in this state was created by Governor Schaefer," quipped Ronald L. Bowers, a Washington County commissioner. "Of course, you know that's not true. We may not have critical problems in Washington County, but they are real. We all have to realize what the rest of us are dealing with. We have got to make changes."

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