Wish List for General Assembly

January 13, 1993

They're back! All 188 of them. Yet few members of the General Assembly are glad to be starting this year's regular 90-day session today. They're worn out after three long years of budget fights, tax increases, abortion battles, redistricting wars and $2 billion worth of anguished spending cuts.

There are five items we believe should be of paramount importance for lawmakers over the next three months in the State House. Here is our wish list for the 1993 session:

* Expand the Baltimore Convention Center. It's the year's biggest economic development opportunity, a $150 million state-city project. If lawmakers fail to enlarge the facility this year, Baltimore will continue to lose trade shows, which means a sharp drop in state tax receipts from conventions. Given the state's precarious fiscal situation, that's tax money the state desperately needs.

The good news is that with an expanded convention center, trade shows are expected to increase 70 percent, conventioneers by 80 percent, translating into millions more in state taxes and economic stimulation. The center's expansion is a big revenue-generator that could lead to major development projects nearby, including a 1,000-bed hotel and a huge medical market-center. The convention center enlargement is a definite winner.

* Tighten auto-emissions standards for new cars. Adopting California's strict rules for car exhausts would enable the state to meet Clean Air Act requirements later in the decade without strangling industries here. Marylanders drive 104 million miles each day; drastically cutting ozone pollution from these vehicles is the way to go.

* Establish a commission to regulate gambling. House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell is correct: gambling is here to stay. But oversight is pathetically weak, encouraging skimming and other illegalities. Tough action is imperative to avoid a proliferation of corrupt activities.

* Ban keno from Maryland. This addictive, fast-paced form of gambling poses a public-health danger and a moral menace for the state's residents. The state has no business actively urging its citizens to turn into gambling addicts. The administration's love affair with gambling has to stop. Legislators should just say "no" to keno.

* Downsize government. Too much rhetoric and not enough action in this area should now be reversed. Speaker Mitchell's departmental reorganization plans ought to be scrutinized as part of an overall effort to squeeze $100 million out of the budget. This state still spends far more than it takes in. That structural imbalance has to be addressed -- and not through more gambling.

Lawmakers ought to set up an on-going group on governmental efficiency to further the work of the Butta commission, and it ought to follow the Hellmann commission's suggestion to make privatization an integral part of the budgeting process. Wherever possible, government should divest itself of functions better handled by the private sector.

* Outlaw possession of assault weapons in Maryland. This is a common-sense step to discourage criminals from using these lethal military-style arms. No law-abiding citizen has a need for assault weapons.

Can the legislature make state government run smoother and at less cost to taxpayers? Does it have the will to support economic development? Is it strong enough to resist the allure of wide-open gambling? Will it put Maryland in the clean-air forefront? Does it dare oppose the gun lobby?

Having survived a harrowing recession, this group of legislators may be in a position to take such courageous steps. The next 90 days will tell.


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