Son of Butta?

April 25, 1993

There's no other way to describe it: The Butta commission was massacred by the 1993 General Assembly. Out of 42 bills submitted to streamline and economize government, virtually lTC everything of substance was rejected. So much for the concern of senators and delegates for making state government more efficient and less costly to taxpayers.

Lawmakers were in no mood to rock the boat. Public employee unions effectively opposed the bills. So did other affected interest groups. Since there was no countervailing public clamor for government overhaul, the Butta bills never had a chance. Much of the work of this panel, led by retired C&P Telephone chief J. Henry Butta, was dismissed by legislators too busy to even read the group's final 63-page report. No wonder Mr. Butta described himself as "shocked," "quite appalled" and "angry" at legislators' disinterest.

But don't write off the Butta commission's efforts so quickly. Some of the group's 115 recommendations will be implemented administratively by Gov. William Donald Schaefer. A legislative subcommittee plans to study proposals to decentralize, streamline and improve the state's inflexible personnel system this summer. The governor is already talking about putting together another Butta reform package for next year's legislative session.

Any far-reaching changes, though, are not likely until after the 1994 elections. Mr. Schaefer has reservations about overhauling state government so late in his final term. Lawmakers clearly don't want to be bothered.

So perhaps the approach of the Maryland Business Council is astute. It has formed a commission, led by lawyer Lowell R. Bowen, to prepare a study for the next governor outlining the business community's efficiency suggestions. That approach would by-pass the do-nothing attitude now prevalent in the State House. It also might turn government reform into a campaign issue next year.

Is this the "Son of Butta"? Three members of the old panel, including Mr. Butta himself, sit on the new commission. Perhaps the new group can formulate proposals that won't alarm lawmakers. And perhaps a group of high-powered business executives can persuade the next governor and the next crop of lawmakers that change is necessary in government, just as it is ** in the private sector.

The final report of the Butta commission contained $150 million in savings and numerous user fees to reduce the burden on most taxpayers. It also focused on new ways of conducting the public's business that would be far more efficient and time-saving. Those are the kinds of changes Marylanders clearly want. Getting that message through to legislators remains the problem.

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