Senate panel balks at fee increases Butta proposal is 'just new taxes' STATE HOUSE REPORT

February 02, 1993|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Staff Writer

Members of the Senate's Budget and Taxation Committee made clear yesterday their belief that the most efficient way of running state government is not necessarily the best way.

In the first formal hearing on the report of the Governor's Commission on Efficiency and Economy, chaired by J. Henry Butta, the senators raised objections both fiscal and philosophical.

They cited the opposition of many lawmakers to the commission's recommendations calling for higher fees for many state regulatory agencies.

"I think there is a broad-based feeling in both the House and the Senate against these fees," said Sen. Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery, the committee chairman. "This is just another form of new taxes, and we promised that we wouldn't balance the budget with new taxes."

Beyond that, a number of committee members questioned the concept of running the government on a "bottom line" basis.

In one such recommendation, Mr. Butta, the retired chairman of Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co., explained the commission's position that certain state hospitals should be run by private firms, and others closed, if the number of patients they served dropped below a certain point.

"Privatization doesn't mean that the state wouldn't pay for these services," Mr. Butta said, responding to fears raised by Sen. Ida G. Ruben, D-Montgomery, that patients needing chronic care would no longer be cared for under his proposals. "It means that the state would pay a private agency to do that job."

Sen. John A. Cade, R-Anne Arundel, said that closing chronic care and mental hospitals -- even when they become inefficient -- might not be the best course of action.

"We have to take into account all the constituencies of these hospitals," Mr. Cade said, indicating that such facilities need to remain open in various areas of the state. "That includes the parents and guardians of these patients who want to be able to see them."

Mr. Cade also led the attack on the commission's concept of having the budgets of state regulatory agencies paid for by the fees they collect.

Mr. Butta said that profit-making operations should not be supported by the taxpayers, arguing that any agency that regulates such businesses should be allowed to raise its fees to a level that pays for its budget without legislative approval.

"I think that the public interest is served by the regulatory work of these agencies," Mr. Cade said. "So the public should support them. If it doesn't, then these agencies will forget about the public interest and serve only the interests of the groups they regulate."

Sen. William H. Amoss, D-Harford, said that giving the agencies the power to set their own fees would remove an important legislative oversight.

Mr. Levintan agreed: "The problem is that these fees all go into special funds. Since they don't affect the general fund, the legislature ends up not paying much attention to them."

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