Putting aside his usual oratorical gimmicks, Gov. William Donald Schaefer gave the General Assembly a straight-forward State of the State speech stressing action over inaction, enthusiasm over lethargy. He set out a vigorous, visionary agenda that -- if adopted -- could catapult Maryland into the front-rank of states.
Four themes permeated Mr. Schaefer's fifth annual address to the legislature: concern over growth, education, public safety and preparations for the 21st century. Action on these subjects is imperative, he told lawmakers, especially in this time of recession and war. "It is important," he said, "that we not &L succumb to melancholy paralysis."
Indeed, he said the worst mistake legislative leaders could make would be to reject all new proposals put before them. This is the moment for bold, imaginative approaches. Lawmakers must have the courage to take chances.
Controlling growth is essential. One million people are expected to move into Maryland by the year 2020. Without concentrating this growth near existing towns, the cost of roads, schools and sewers could bankrupt taxpayers -- and ruin our most precious resource, the Chesapeake Bay.
Education reforms are crucial, too. The administration wants each school accountable for its successes and failures. The best would be rewarded; troubled schools would get resources to make improvements. This plan holds great promise.
Mr. Schaefer's public safety program includes two novel proposals: a state takeover of the City Jail and privatizing the much-criticized Charles Hickey School for youths. This first suggestion should have happened years ago. The state can run the jail far more efficiently as part of the Maryland Penitentiary. As for the Hickey School, juvenile workers there seem unwilling -- or unable -- to improve matters. It is time for a new approach.
The governor's primary concern Friday was resistance to key tax proposals: the Linowes commission recommendations and a 5 percent sales tax on gasoline. He warned that parts of the state would suffer without added revenue from the Linowes plan, which would also make state taxes fairer, cut income taxes for two-thirds of Marylanders, increase school aid and lower property tax rates.
As for the gas-tax hike, Mr. Schaefer said "the well is dry." Maryland must have more funds to build roads and mass-transit lines. Shelving all highway projects would cost 5,000 jobs -- a sure way to deepen this state's recession.
Without these two proposals, the governor said the state could enter the next century unable to keep pace in terms of economic development and public services. That would be tragically shortsighted. Mr. Schaefer's vision is one of daring and imagination. It deserves support in the legislature.