Schaefer's Wise Decisions

May 26, 1991

Vetoes were kept to a minimum as Gov. William Donald Schaefer wisely resisted the temptation to initiate a new pitched battle with legislative leaders over bills sent to his desk for his signature or rejection. The governor's willingness to take a pragmatic view of the Annapolis scene strengthens his position with legislators and enhances the chances that most, if not all, of his 11 vetoes will be sustained.

Some legislators were relishing the thought of the governor rejecting popular bills. It would be a relatively simple matter to override those vetoes at next month's special session, with the legislature once again handing Mr. Schaefer a stinging rebuff.

But the governor did not fall into that political trap. He took the high road and, in the process, signed into law some landmark legislation, despite personal reservations. He also let pass, without his signature, a package of tax increases that legislators passed over his objections. And he vetoed bills for sensible health and education reasons.

Three new laws stand out. The open-meetings law sends a strong message to state and local officials that the public cannot be shut out of meetings where public business is discussed. A three-member compliance board, the first in the nation, will resolve disputes and keep closed meetings to a minimum. It should help restore public confidence in the decisions that government reaches.

A series of campaign finance laws also benefits the public by sharply limiting the influence of special-interest lobbyists in elections. The third noteworthy law revamps most of the state's college scholarship programs, reorienting them toward students in need. Left out of this package, though, was the legislature's own, costly patronage scholarship program. That should be a target of the next round of reforms.

Foremost among the vetoed bills was a measure raising the speed limit on Maryland's rural interstate highways from 55 mph to 65. The governor was persuaded, just as he had been last year, that the extra speed would increase the chances of more fatalities and more severe accidents. Mr. Schaefer also turned down bills keeping the Lida Lee Tall Center at Towson State alive for another year. Given the state's precarious financial situation, this experimental elementary school could not be justified, especially in light of other far more pressing needs confronting state government.

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