A bigger role for the legislature?

August 01, 1994

It comes as no surprise that Del. Casper R. Taylor, the nine-month speaker of the House of Delegates, seeks to give the General Assembly a bigger role in running the state. Mr. Taylor sees his job as a full-time occupation and thus he envisions the legislature as being "a bit more active in year-round planning" and year-round strategy development.

But Mr. Taylor and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller are headed in the wrong direction if they intend to increase the legislature's clout in the State House. For one thing, the next governor isn't about to cede power. A redistricted legislature might not go along, either.

Maryland's part-time legislature is not designed to function as a year-round ruler of the state. The Assembly's role is to make laws -- and then go home. It is the governor's role to run the state.

Mr. Taylor says "We in no way are attempting to infringe upon the constitutional and political responsibilities of the chief executive." Yet such infringement is inevitable under this plan.

The two leaders have produced a booklet, "Strategy 2000," listing eight areas for the General Assembly to focus upon. It covers just about every key aspect of government. The goal is to have the legislature set the direction for Maryland, not simply react to what the governor proposes. Good luck.

Legislatures are not usually policy initiators. There are 188 senators and delegates in Annapolis with conflicting philosophies and constituencies with different interests. Obtaining agreement on what future steps to take on public safety or education or the environment is often impossible. That's why the governor, under the constitution, develops long-range policy proposals for consideration.

In truth, legislators can react much better than they can create. Remember the fiasco when legislative leaders decided to conduct their own study of the state's revenue and spending needs? Reams of documents were produced. Thousands of hours were consumed in deliberations. In the end, legislators couldn't agree how to cut the size of government or what to do about taxes. They waited till the governor put a proposal before them.

LTC Mr. Taylor is right to try to get lawmakers to concentrate on long-range issues. There is a lack of legislative vision. Too much time is spent seeking short-term, expedient solutions. As long as the speaker and Senate president stick to this limited objective, they will be improving government. But if they start pre-empting the governor's role in the State House, they are headed for trouble.

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