Spotlight on Annapolis

January 13, 1993

As the General Assembly convenes in Annapolis at noo today, there are no bright expectations for a productive, high-spirited session ahead. The budget crisis continues to cast a long shadow over state government.

Many of the legislature's 188 senators and delegates got into politics so they could do something for their constituents. In more prosperous years, doing something was easy. Usually it involved steering more money toward a pet project -- schools, police, drug rehab programs, small business, the homeless, the local community college or whatever. But the budget crisis has dragged on so long that those days now seem a distant daydream.

The challenges facing the General Assembly this year are of a far different sort. The choices are tougher and more painful -- and are guaranteed to make constituents mad. But governing is not just a sunny day game. The real test comes in times like these, when officials elected to represent the people have to make decisions many constituents will not like, but that are necessary in order for government to work within its means.

The central challenge facing the General Assembly this year is to face up to fiscal reality. A modestly improving economic outlook cannot erase the $100 million gap that separates the cost of state government as it is now organized and operated and the revenues available to pay the bills.

Even so, there is one project important enough to the region's economy that it deserves funding even in a lean year like this one. We refer to the expansion of the Baltimore Convention Center, which is already beginning to lose important meetings to cities with larger facilities. With a charm and character missing from many other urban areas, Baltimore has long been a favorite destination for conventioneers. Previous investments in the Convention Center have repaid themselves faster than anticipated, and projections show the expansion would produce several times its cost in tax revenues generated for both the city and the state.

On the environmental front, the legislature can help the state comply with the federal Clean Air Act while also improving the quality of life in Maryland by tightening auto-emissions standards for new cars to the same strict standards in effect in California. Taking strong action now could help prevent the need for onerous regulations on industry in order to meet air quality standards later in the decade.

One bright spot for legislators of all persuasions is the prospect of a 90-day session without the threat of an abortion stand-off. The referendum on Question 6 last November removed that contentious issue from the legislative docket.

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