Plain talk

January 21, 1991

It was quintessentially Schaeferesque -- the Bob Hope humor, the reflection on the state of the world, the genuine, heartfelt concern for the people of Maryland and the plain talk about tough times. Governor Schaefer's 1991 State of the State address was a call to innovative action. With the economy souring, the governor focused his Friday speech on a post-recession, post-war vision of Maryland, asking lawmakers to enact an agenda to put the state in a competitive position when hard times are over.

This is no easy mandate, particularly because it involves some new taxes, and voters trounced "tax-and-spend" candidates just last November. In his inimitable do-it-now style, however, Schaefer urged lawmakers to resist political pressure and to enact the recommendations of the Linowes Commission which would, among other things, provide money for bold and badly needed education reform. He asked them to raise the gas tax to maintain bridges and roads, and to enact sweeping growth control measures to protect Maryland's environmental integrity.

Although Schaefer's goals are indisputably worthy, most legislators remain unconvinced that this is the right time to raise taxes or clamp down on growth. Still, the fiscal state of the state virtually ensures that some of the Linowes recommendations will be at least partially implemented; expect a political slug-fest over which ones and in what form. Clearly, Schaefer's initiatives that jTC don't require new money stand a better chance of approval. Among the most promising are the privatization of the Hickey School, a ban on military-style assault weapons, reorganization of health and human resource departments to create a new agency to oversee services for the poor and a state takeover of the city jail and the Baltimore zoo which would, at least, set a precedent for helping the financially strapped city.

There is still an understandable skepticism among lawmakers about the genuineness of the governor's appeal for a better working relationship to achieve his vision for Maryland. Nonetheless, the more conciliatory, more focused and more optimistic message Schaefer delivered Friday was among his best, and it bodes well for a productive session.

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