Lawmakers cool to fee proposals STATE HOUSE REPORT

January 29, 1993|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Staff Writer

Gov. William Donald Schaefer broadly embraced the latest recommendations of his Commission on Economy and Efficiency Government yesterday, even as legislators and affected groups were giving the proposals a cool reception.

J. Henry Butta, the retired Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. executive who headed the 11-member commission, began a briefing on the group's findings yesterday by announcing that the governor had already agreed to back about "80 percent" of the recommendations. Approximately 40 bills to implement the recommendations are being drafted for introduction in the Assembly, aides to the governor said.

The wide-ranging study calls for millions of dollars in higher fees for various government services, a spending cap on the state's $2 billion Medicaid program, decentralization of state government's personnel system, and dozens of other proposals large and small, ranging from making better use of computer and information technology to consolidating state-run print shops.

It was word of the proposed higher fees that quickly caught the attention of legislators, none of whom has yet been briefed on the report's contents.

"I think the General Assembly has a commitment to the taxpayers of the state that the 1993 session will be one in which the General Assembly will not seek to rely on either tax increases or fee increases to balance the budget," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's.

House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, angered that he first learned of the commission's recommendations by reading them in the newspaper, said, "What I've seen in the paper I don't particularly care for. They're saying efficiency in government is fees, [but] fees are taxes."

Among its proposals, the commission said families that depend on the state for medical care should be charged fees based on their ability to pay; that the parents of juvenile delinquents should be charged for the cost of their care; that the Motor Vehicle Administration should be given authority to recoup 100 percent of its costs through fees; and that a variety of other fees be assessed by the departments of Environment and Agriculture for such activities as sewage treatment plant inspections and commercial fertilizer registration.

"I don't sense any support for any fee increases," Speaker Mitchell said.

Mr. Mitchell also said he disagreed with the commission's conclusion that consolidating state agencies would not be beneficial. Mr. Mitchell, who is pushing such legislation, said he still believes that is a way of achieving true cost savings.

The idea of charging fees to inspect government sewage treatment plants also was opposed yesterday by David S. Bliden, executive director of the Maryland Association of Counties. Mr. Bliden said the idea was little more than a cost shift from the state to local governments and would ultimately be passed on to homeowners or other users through higher local fees or taxes.

Similarly, Walter Thompson, lobbyist for the Maryland Motor Truck Association, objected to a proposal to raise as much as $26 million through fees on dump trucks. That is the amount of damage the report says the 65,000-pound trucks cause to roads and bridges each year.

"Our contention is that $26 million is a figure that has no validity," Mr. Thompson said, adding that he was "perturbed" that the Butta Commission never met with the trucking industry to discuss its dump truck recommendation.

As he turned in his commission's third and final report, Mr. Butta was asked whether he had uncovered any "waste" in government.

"I'd have to say, no, I didn't," he replied, adding that he was impressed by how hard most state employees work.

"Waste," he said, "is not the right word. Opportunities to improve operations in the state, yes. We found lots of them. You'll find them in any large organization."

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