Coalition politics

April 16, 1991

The "call to arms" issued last week by the executives of Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's counties should also be a call to action to officials in the Baltimore metropolitan area.

An agreement, struck by representatives from three of the state's wealthiest and most politically influential jurisdictions, ended in a pact to work together on future transportation, growth and environmental issues. Partly, the new coalition is a response to legislative inaction -- the 1991 General Assembly scuttled counties' fiscal concerns, and its failure to enact a gasoline tax to fund road and transportation projects hit Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's especially hard. Cooperation and political clout are indeed a promising prescription. But if the new coalition bodes well for the Washington suburbs, it also exacerbates the growing political polarization between the Baltimore and Washington areas, which became a bald contest of competing interests in the battle over Linowes tax reform this past legislative session.

For its part, the Baltimore area boasts a Regional Council of Governments of which Howard is also a part. But the Baltimore COG is a coalition in name mostly; it has not yet demonstrated political muscle or a genuine commitment to regionalism. Moreover, for the first time in years, the next gubernatorial election may well produce a state leader who has little political allegiance to the Baltimore metropolitan area. The new Howard-Montgomery-P.G. coalition should prompt officials in the city and nearby counties to recognize that problems like housing, transportation, waste management and even education are too broad, too complex and too costly to be solved alone. Political and fiscal cooperation is the most effective way to ensure the long-term vitality of the Baltimore area, and the time to get serious is now.

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