Department of Chaos? Farmers want to be spared STATE HOUSE REPORT

February 10, 1993|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Staff Writer

Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. is finding that restructuring the state government is easier said than done.

Mr. Mitchell's proposal to save the state money by combining the Department of Agriculture with the Department of Natural Resources was greeted by more than 100 farmers yesterday with all the enthusiasm they might bring to a drought.

Legislative leaders later said they doubted the proposal would survive, joining another Mitchell restructuring measure that Gov. William Donald Schaefer has threatened to veto. That measure would combine the Departments of Budget and Fiscal Planning, General Services and Personnel.

A third proposal, to combine the Maryland Natural Resources Police with the Maryland State Police under the Department of Public Safety, also has drawn stiff opposition and its chances are uncertain.

Despite the nearly $2 billion in cuts over three years, Marylanders still want government to be cut, said Speaker Mitchell, whose restructuring bills would each aim at 20 percent savings in the departmental budgets.

"We still haven't touched the structure of government and we still haven't looked at the reorganization of state government," the Kent County Democrat told the Environmental Matters Committee.

He later brushed aside suggestions that his bills would not survive and said he would try to respond to opponents' concerns.

Farmers -- along with environmentalists, fishermen, yachtsmen and bureaucrats -- opposed the consolidation measure during the committee hearing, noting that the missions of the two agencies are vastly different, and sometimes at odds. As a result, the proposed Department of Land and Water Resources would likely function as a Department of Chaos, they testified.

"The agencies are distinct and should not be matched," David S. Iannucci, chief legislative lobbyist for the governor, told the committee.

"They're at opposite ends of the spectrum," said M. Magruder Rea, a bearded and burly 65-year-old farmer from Howard County, outside the crowded hearing room. Other farmers feared that the agriculture department, with a $16.7 million budget this year, would be swallowed up by the more powerful DNR, budgeted for $130 million this year. Such a move could hurt the $1.5 billion agricultural industry, the state's largest.

Mr. Iannucci and others supported the idea of restructuring but echoed a comment from Governor Schaefer that it should be studied by a commission and taken up by the next governor in 1995.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Prince George's, said he also has been lobbied by farmers against the agriculture and DNR merger. "The bill's not going to pass this year," he said.

Even House Majority Leader D Bruce Poole, D-Washington, conceded that it would be "rough sledding" getting the measure passed. "The need for restructuring is so apparent, yet Clay is the only one who's trying to do something," said Mr. Poole. "But he's getting kicked for it."

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