This will be a year of choices for Maryland leaders and for Maryland voters. Not all of the options are pleasant ones, but the outcome could affect the shape of this state's government and social concerns for the rest of this decade.
The bad news comes early. Gov. William Donald Schaefer's budget proposal later this month will paint a dismal picture -- an $800 million deficit that can be wiped out only with huge cuts in local aid and abolishing entire state agencies. A second option for legislators: a package of higher taxes. Either way, the choices will be excruciating for lawmakers -- and unpopular with large blocks of constituents.
But legislators won't be the only ones making tough decisions. Voters will have their hands full in March and November. First comes the March 3 presidential primary, early enough that it could have national impact, especially in the crowded Democratic race. At the same time, voters must select Democratic and Republican nominees for eight congressional House seats and a Senate seat, with large fields running in most of the contests.
Then in November, the volatile issue of abortion re-surfaces in this state. A referendum challenging the state's 1991 law that guarantees abortion rights set forth in the Supreme Court's landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision will force voters to judge for themselves. A long and bitter election campaign is expected this summer and fall. It could also become intertwined with some of the races for Congress in the general election.
This year could mark significant steps in a number of other areas of concern: health care, air pollution, growth control and higher education.
Legislators will be presented with a number of proposals to guarantee health insurance to most Marylanders. Given the state's budgetary strait jacket, legislators may debate the issue but delay any final decision until 1993. But support for tougher auto-exhaust standards (similar to California's law) could put that legislation on a fast track. It also enjoys strong administration backing, as does a bill setting modest growth guidelines for the counties.
On the college level, 1992 may be the moment for progress in rationalizing higher education in the Baltimore area. Strong support is building behind a merger of the University of Maryland's downtown professional campus with its Catonsville campus. The result would be a more focused Baltimore presence for UM and a high-powered research university. It is the kind of far-sighted approach that could propel Maryland into the upper echelon of hi-tech research and development, creating jobs for thousands of area residents later in this decade.