Reshaping State Government

February 07, 1993

Everyone in Annapolis likes to talk about downsizing government, making it lean and efficient. But no one wants to do it. Gov. William Donald Schaefer has washed his hands of the most sweeping suggestions of his own commissions; House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell seeks simply to move around some of the building blocks known as state departments; other lawmakers are so wedded to the status quo that any suggestion of change -- even if it would save money -- is unacceptable.

In such a head-in-the-sand environment, perhaps the best strategy is to plan for the future -- in hopes that the next governor and the next legislature have the political courage and foresight to prepare Maryland for the 21st century. The time has come to design a sleeker, more compact and more modern form of state government.

Piecemeal alterations aren't gathering much support. The report the Butta commission on government economy is being pilloried by lawmakers who equate user fees with general tax increases and flee from cost-savings that stir controversy. Speaker Mitchell's proposal to merge departments might actually make matters worse: the departments aren't compatible and often have conflicting objectives. Large super-departments tend to make government more bureaucratic and unwieldy.

It has been more than two decades since Maryland last examined, in depth, the overall structure of state government. The exhaustive report of the Curlett Commission led to a sweeping overhaul, implemented by Marvin Mandel. That same state governmental structure is still in use today.

But times change, and organizations have to change with the times. That's the way of life in the private sector; so it should be in the public sector.

Maryland needs to take a hard look at the dramatic socio-economic changes of the past 20 years and at trends for the future. The governmental structure of 1970 may not be appropriate to handle the problems of 2000. What functions of government should be handed off to the private sector? What functions need to be handled differently? What departments should be reconfigured? How can the vast changes in electronics be adapted to simplify the work of government?

These are the kinds of questions a new state commission should answer. The panel should have prestigious representatives from the legislature, the judiciary, the private sector, local government and the executive branch. Leaders in Annapolis should put their influence behind it. The commission's first report should specify actions that ought to be addressed by the 1994 legislative session. Discussion should be encouraged in election campaigns. The bulk of the report, though, should be readied in time for the next governor and legislature to act.

A Commission on the Future of State Government in Maryland ought to be created by the General Assembly quickly. If a bill were enacted and signed by the governor this month, the panel could be up and running by late spring. Marylanders deserve up-to-date government. We can take the preliminary steps now to make that a reality.

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