Resurrecting regional cooperation

March 09, 1992

The state-financed Baltimore Regional Council of Governments is about to bite the dust after 28 years of operation under various names. But the one-time Regional Planning Council will then be resurrected in a different form as the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, largely financed by Baltimore City and Baltimore County as well as Anne Arundel, Harford, Howard and Carroll counties and run by their elected executives.

The first part of this scenario is already unfolding. Many BRCG employees have received pink slips. Among those leaving is Guy Hager, the agency's executive director.

The second part of the plan is still being fought over in Annapolis. The metropolitan chief executives want to control BRCG's successor agency. But certain state bureaucracies, above all the Department of Transportation, would kill for added federal funds and extra positions at this time of fiscal scarcity. They are now lobbying hard to get some of the BRCG planning functions -- and federal funding -- transferred to their jurisdiction.

It is too early to tell just how this fierce tug-of-war over BRCG's future will end. Some type of rump regional agency presumably will continue occupying its headquarters at the recently renovated former Greyhound bus terminal on Howard Street.

Maryland has little choice in the matter: A federal law requires each urban area to have a "metropolitan planning organization" as a prerequisite for funding. At the moment there are six such agencies, but BRCG has been the only one financed by the state. Whether the successor organization would receive any state money for a transition period or for future operations is unclear. (In the end, however, any regional agency receives most of its funding for performing tasks mandated by the federal government or the state.)

This newspaper has been a strong proponent of regional cooperation. We see this transition as a time of opportunity. If inter-agency jealousies are defused and the Baltimore Metropolitan Council takes root, such an organization could become the much-needed vehicle to promote joint action and approaches in this key economic district.

The disappearing Baltimore Regional Council of Governments died because the chief executives in the city and the surrounding counties did not see it as a viable or worthwhile agency. In jointly deciding to create a new organization to replace it, they have implicitly pledged to make it work. This is a good sign. It suggests that in gaining experience, many of the first-time executives have recognized that regional cooperation is a sensible approach, particularly in unpredictable economic times.

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