Acrimony in Annapolis

April 09, 1991

There were, indeed, a great many Marylanders who were relieved when the General Assembly rejected the governor's appeal to pass an $800 million tax reform package -- voters who had made clear in November's election that they were sick of "big" government, and wanted lawmakers to cut the fat.

But if the General Assembly responded to what it perceived to be the will of the people, Governor Schaefer was of another mind -- the rejection of the Linowes tax reform program was, he thought, a personal assault. And so the acrimony escalated -- with blow after perilous legislative blow struck by lawmakers who succeeded not merely in dismantling the pillars of Schaefer's agenda but in enacting, in turn, one of their own.

With the exception of passing an abortion-rights bill early in the session, the 90 days became an intricate, personal interplay that accomplished very little. Among the casualties were gun control, growth control and transportation -- all of which most certainly will have long-term implications for the quality of life in this state. So too the budget; lawmakers opted for a finger-in-the-dike strategy for the state's deepening revenue shortfall -- increasing taxes on cigarettes and carry-out food and closing a loophole on capital gains to balance the budget. This approach may have won lawmakers kudos from an electorate that is lumbering under the weight of the recession. But it shelves, rather than solves, the state's long-term budget problems.

There were, of course, accomplishments this session -- chief among them is abortion rights, some modest campaign reform, a vastly improved state scholarship program, a reforestation plan and a bill to allow evidence of battered spouse syndrome to be introduced in Maryland courts. But the session should have, and could have, produced far more. Now, even the modest gains of the 1991 session appear tentative. Schaefer -- still reeling from the political pounding inflicted by legislators -- has threatened to veto all substantive bills the General Assembly passed this year.

That would be precisely the wrong tack -- both for the governor and the people of Maryland. For one thing, the General Assembly is poised to respond with a special session to override the governor's vetoes, and Schaefer would be soundly trounced, his fate as a lame duck sealed. More than that, the tax measures the General Assembly passed, while no panacea, are the only thing standing between solvency and a budget crisis. It would be foolish for the governor to risk his political effectiveness for the next three years and put his already plummeting public approval rating in greater jeopardy for the fleeting satisfaction of getting back at lawmakers.

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