Democrats aim for a leaner government Republicans, a restructured one

April 05, 1992|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Annapolis Bureau

ANNAPOLIS -- Like revolutionaries marching to the barricades, many Maryland legislators showed up for the 1992 session promising to make state government smaller, to pare away entire programs and to consider a budget so pitiless the governor called it a "doomsday" plan.

L Three months later, hardly a purposeful shot has been fired.

With the session's end in sight, though, the budget-making political chaos could force deep cuts which, in turn, could force structural change. That outcome might amount to inadvertent revolution.

So far, the 1992 changes in government have been incremental -- a step here, a step there, nothing very dramatic.

"Every journey begins with a single step," said Del. James C. Rosapepe, D-Prince George's, an advocate for much of the current structure.

Some proposals for change were pernicious, he said. Holding them off was important to the welfare of the state: protecting children by keeping the educational funding structure and its aid formulas intact, for example.

Those who say the Assembly did start on the road toward a new government framework point to four items on the agenda:

* Changes in eligibility rules for welfare and efforts to stimulate more responsible uses of medical care by the poor.

* A new interest in turning state services over to the private sector.

* Cuts in state aid to local governments and -- though it could die in the session's final days -- a corresponding shift of taxing power to local governments. In time, unless steps are taken to control the disparities in wealth between various Maryland counties, this change could be the most important of the year.

* Changes in procurement laws that streamline government operations, and new personnel rules that could restore a manager's ability to attract and keep quality workers.

Nevertheless, the basic structure of departments, agencies, bureaus and programs could remain intact, no matter what version of the budget emerges. Three words describe the legislature's effort this year, according to Del. Robert L. Flanagan, a Howard County Republican: "Business as usual."

Mr. Flanagan and his GOP allies would have targeted a number of agencies. They would have abolished the Department of Employment and Economic Development. That agency, Delegate Flanagan said, has no legitimate reason for being. It's also one of Gov. William Donald Schaefer's favorites.

"It's slop for the hogs," Mr. Flanagan said, mincing no words. He sees DEED as a slough of patronage for the incumbent Democratic administration. According to the GOP, the agency spends $160 million to pursue enterprises best left to the private sector.

Mr. Flanagan also would have merged the state Department of Natural Resources with the Department of Environment, two agencies he said share enough objectives to warrant operation under a single, leaner administration.

He would have cut deeply in the education bureaucracy, believing he could cut many jobs there. He would have set a tighter cap on state employment in general.

The Schaefer administration argues that the state has largely forgotten the $1 billion in cuts the governor made before the Assembly convened this year and additional cuts made in this year's budget.

Maryland stands as one of only 11 states in the union where the state work force grew more slowly than the growth of the state's population, according to David S. Iannucci, the governor's chief lobbyist.

More could have been done, Mr. Flanagan insisted. "This is the part of the economic cycle where restructuring needs to be done, if it's ever going to be done."

"When the economy has stabilized," said Del. John J. Bishop, R-Baltimore County, "the coffers will be so full we'll start creating new programs again."

Mr. Flanagan said the Assembly was able to avoid fundamental change because it has adopted procedures over the years that protect the status quo.

When the budget was debated on the floor of the House, Mr. Flanagan argued that the "doomsday" budget was a false and misleading alternative.

Presented first by Governor Schaefer and altered later by House staff members, the so-called "doomsday" fallback budget painted a deliberately more severe picture of what would happen with no new taxes than the legislators, themselves, might have made it.

Some delegates who might have preferred a smaller spending package voted for the budget anyway, because the alternative was too harsh.

If lawmakers can't agree on a package of tax increases by tomorrow night's deadline, they may actually get a chance to put some version of doomsday into effect.

For those who do see change in the structure of government, Mr. Flanagan's language and the language of the GOP leadership is instructive, according to Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg, D-Baltimore.

While the Republicans have been intent on making change for partisan sake, he said, others in the Assembly have tried to prevent dismantling for its own sake. They've encouraged change where it can be made without disrupting services to those who need them.

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