Panel's plan to boost state revenues released Fees, spending cuts total $60 million

December 21, 1991|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- Raise auto-registration fees. Put state troopers in smaller cars. Close a state hospital. Charge more to register a handgun.

"Business as usual won't work" with state revenues shrinking and needs rising, said J. Henry Butta, chairman of the governor's Commission on Efficiency and Economy in Government, as the panel released its first report yesterday.

After three months' study, the commission said Maryland's government can run more efficiently if it changes how it serves the public and how it collects fees.

If all the recommendations in the report were adopted, state government would see an additional $60 million a year -- a combination of savings and new revenues -- Mr. Butta said. Of that annual total, about $20 million could be realized without having to pass legislation to make the changes.

Some of the recommendations will be easy to put in place, said Gov. William Donald Schaefer, though he would not commit to implementing any in particular.

Others proposals -- including a requirement that motorcyclists wear helmets and an increase in motor-vehicle registration fees -- would need legislative changes. The governor said he expected that many of the recommendations will attract opposition from special interest groups.

Mr. Butta acknowledged not all the changes will be embraced by the legislature or the public.

"I'm going to hear from a lot of people, and I'm going to give them all the same answer," Mr. Butta said. "We will not get into a battle with special interests. If you're interested, you will adopt them. If you're not, you won't."

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, predicted that the report "will be very well received" by the

legislature as "an honest effort."

"In terms of the overall budget, See SAVINGS, 4A, Col. 1SAVINGS, from 1Athe amount of cuts they recommend is relatively small," the Senate president said. "But every bit helps in these difficult times."

Governor Schaefer appointed the 12-member panel in September to look for ways the state could more efficiently serve the public while revenues erode.

Mr. Butta's team -- including business executives, former Cabinet members and former elected officials -- spent three months interviewing state officials and surveying their operations.

The panel is continuing its work and plans to release reports in April and September.

Some of the recommendations are relatively simple. For example: Buy midsized cars for the Maryland State Police instead of full-sized cars that use more fuel. The commission estimates annual savings of $800,000 on gas alone once the fleet is all midsized.

Among the recommendations expected to be less popular: Raise fees for handgun permits from $25 to $235. "That's what it costs" to process the permits, Mr. Butta said.

And then there's the issue of helmets for motorcyclists. The legislature's perennial failure to pass a law requiring helmets -- an issue that attracts hundreds of protesting bikers to Annapolis each year -- "just doesn't make any sense to me at all," Mr. Schaefer said, "except the people on motorcycles ride around the circle and everyone's afraid to walk out."

The panel says the cost of acute medical care is $20,000 higher for an unhelmeted cyclist -- and in 1990 the state paid $1.3 million for accident victims who were covered by the Medicaid program or who had no insurance at all.

In addition, long-term care for bare-headed cyclists in state-financed chronic-care hospitals averages more than $60,000 a person, the report found. Making helmets mandatory will save the state $1.3 million a year, the report estimated.

Among the commission's other recommendations:

* End free tuitions for non-faculty employees and their dependents at state colleges and universities. "It's not necessary and it's unfair," Mr. Butta said. "Other state employees do the same job and don't have that advantage."

Faculty members and their dependents, who now can attend college free, would be charged half-price until the budget crisis eases, Mr. Butta said. Later, free tuition could be restored for faculty and their families because the program helps the state recruit professors.

Estimated savings: $4.3 million a year.

* Raise motor vehicle registration fees $8 and dedicate the added revenues to the medevac emergency helicopter system.

Estimated new revenue: $26 million a year.

* Use only one auto license plate, as 19 other states do.

Estimated savings: $768,000 a year.

* Shift the costs of the Resident Trooper Program -- which sends state troopers to some counties to reinforce local police -- to the ,, local governments. The state now pays 25 percent of the costs of the troopers.

Estimated savings: $1.08 million a year.

* End special Medicaid transportation programs for non-emergency cases in areas that have mass transit.

Estimated savings: $9.7 million, with about half going to the state and half to the federal government.

* Consolidate the state's five hospitals for the developmentally disabled and 14 for the mentally ill.

Preliminary estimate of savings: $10 million if one hospital were closed and patients were shifted to other hospitals.

Mr. Butta said the budget crisis had forced many agencies to economize before commission members had a chance to review their work. "It's kind of hard to keep up with," he said.

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