'Do it now' campaign gets mixed results

FAST TRACK?

March 23, 1992|By David Conn | David Conn,Annapolis Bureau

ANNAPOLIS -- Gov. William Donald Schaefer unveiled his "Maryland Goes to Work" accelerated construction program in November with typical gubernatorial fanfare. Now that it's halfway done, the results are undeniably . . . mixed.

The idea behind the program was to cut some of the red tape that makes conducting the business of government such a labored process sometimes.

With the building industry in a long-term slump that showed no signs of abating, the governor declared that the state could no longer "wait for an economic recovery."

Last week Mr. Schaefer's press office quietly released an interim status report on all the targeted projects, those believed most ripe for acceleration.

Of the $270 million in capital projects that were first identified, contracts worth $162.3 million were approved by the state Board of Public Works as of March 18, according to the report.

It estimates that 1,190 jobs were created as a result, that $5.5 million in state and local taxes were generated, and that Maryland enjoyed a total economic benefit of $279.8 million from the expedited activity.

Some of the time savings came from having state capital project managers crack a whip on local officials who receive the construction money; and some came from setting up simultaneous -- rather than sequential -- approval processes.

So far so good. Of course, Board of Public Works approval does not mean ground has been broken yet, or that the money is rippling through the economy. In fact, many of the approved projects won't begin for several months.

And what the summary doesn't point out is that the "acceleration" for many projects merely translates into less delay than expected. Some projects were scheduled to begin early, became delayed by many weeks for various reasons, and then became less delayed, though still late according to the original target.

Finally, many of the projects among the original list of 142 won't be started by the end of the fiscal year in June.

But it's also true that the program seems to have shaken up construction managers used to doing things the old way.

Even if the savings came only from trimming delays, or even if projects were accelerated by only one or two weeks, that's one or two weeks earlier that the money entered the economy.

"Although we may not have expedited all of the projects that the governor identified, we have expedited a good number of them," said Trudy Jeffers, an executive assistant to Mr. Schaefer who is tracking the program.

She acknowledged the program shows that state government can be more efficient, and hopefully those efficiencies will survive the recession.

"We're trying to push the system," Ms. Jeffers said, "and not just a handful of projects."

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