Averting State House Gridlock

April 14, 1991

That recent 90-day stand-off in the Maryland State House between Gov. William Donald Schaefer and the General Assembly could pose major obstacles to the smooth running of state government in the months ahead. Unless the two sides lower their voices, restrain their tempers and work cooperatively, there could be unprecedented gridlock in Annapolis.

Government paralysis benefits no one. Mr. Schaefer cannot do his job effectively without approval of his plans by the legislature. At the same time, lawmakers cannot implement their own policy initiatives without the help of the administrative arm of government run by Mr. Schaefer.

At the moment, the feud between the two branches continues. (( But citizens aren't interested in name-calling and finger-pointing. Elected officials are supposed to govern the state, not engage in childish behavior. Mr. Schaefer and legislative leaders have a responsibility to attend to their respective duties, especially in 11 tough economic times when more and more Marylanders are turning to their state government for a helping hand.

The end of the legislative session provides an appropriate cooling-off period. The governor has a chance to unwind and forget about the defeats he suffered in the House and Senate. He can turn his attention to important decisions that must be made this summer on next year's budget, redistricting and crucial studies looking at reforming the state's tax structure, increased transportation revenue and a statewide land-use plan.

Governor Schaefer would be wrong to try to continue this feud by needlessly vetoing hundreds of bills. That would only lead to a sharp rebuff -- a historic special session called by the legislators themselves and a near-unanimous override of these vetoes by an enraged General Assembly.

A far more sensible approach would be to seek a rapprochement. Legislative leaders have sent the governor a letter asking him to work with them in designing new congressional and General Assembly districts. He should promptly accept that offer, without any strings attached. And then he should make a counter-offer: to set up small, informal work groups, consisting of a few top administration aides and key House and Senate members, to reach agreement on the broad outlines of tax, transportation and land-use reforms.

That would set the stage for meaningful legislative hearings -- with on-going administration input -- this summer and fall. By the end of the year, the committees should be ready to draft detailed legislation that can be embraced by House and Senate leaders and the governor.

That would be a win-win situation. It could pave the way for a harmonious, and successful, 1992 General Assembly session. More important, the state's major unresolved issues would finally be tackled -- before they turn into full-scale crises.

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