How to Save Tax Dollars

January 31, 1993

Want to know how to cut costs in state government? How to trim the bureaucracy? How to stop the waste of tax dollars? Pick up a copy of the final report from the Butta commission on efficiency and economy in government. It doesn't cover everything, but this report shows how hundreds of millions of tax dollars could be saved every year.

Commission chairman J. Henry Butta deserves credit for achieving in a little over one year an easy-to-use laundry list of steps that can be taken right away to start saving money. Not only that, the net result should be more efficiency and better delivery of services to the public.

Here are some examples of how tax dollars can be saved without much fuss:

* Appoint a technology czar to update and manage the state's $250 million annual spending on information technology. A modest 5 percent reduction in costs would save $12.5 million a year.

* Bar state troopers from using police cars for personal use. Savings: $300,000 a year.

* Revamp the state's 18 print shops and 2 duplicating centers in the Baltimore area, cut back on outside printing and do the same work in the state's underutilized in-house shops. Savings: $2 million a year.

* Impose standards and fees on the state's 9,000 dump trucks. Income: $26 million, enough to offset the road damage done by these trucks.

Other proposals hold the potential for even bigger savings or efficiencies. Foremost are the health-care and personnel recommendations.

The panel calls for more cost-sharing by health-care patients able to afford it, greater use of community and at-home care alternatives and a clampdown on Medicaid costs by stressing managed care options such as HMOs and contracts with medical providers and nursing homes.

The immediate savings exceed $50 million, but the longer-term value could be many times that. Bringing health-care costs under control would be a monumental achievement that both the governor and the legislature should pursue vigorously.

In the area of personnel, the commission calls for a total revamping of the system, giving individual agencies hiring and firing powers, setting up a pay-for-performance plan and giving managers extensive training. It is a long-overdue step.

Government must learn to run more like a private-sector business. Self-examination and regular reassessments are crucial. The Butta panel has shown in specific ways how Maryland can save tens of millions of dollars while also improving efficiency. We urge Gov. William Donald Schaefer to continue the work of this commission, perhaps with legislative representation. The job of making Annapolis leaner but more effective has just begun. It should be an on-going crusade.

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