The silly season

August 25, 1994|By Frank A. DeFilippo

PICK YOUR poison, crime or the budget deficit. Every candidate for governor has an answer but no one has a solution.

Anyone who hasn't been vacationing in a bat cave knows the state is facing a $900 million structural deficit over the next four years.

And for those who follow the stats, crime is rampaging like a menacing plague, so much so that three strikes and you're out is no longer the old ball game. For symbol-minded candidates it's two times, Charlie, and throw away the key. Much of the rhetoric doesn't have a point.

Begin with Republican Rep. Helen Delich Bentley. She's soft on crime in Washington but tough on it at home. Mrs. Bentley originally voted against President Clinton's $33 million crime bill. But she proposed abolishing parole for violent offenders and instituting mandatory life sentences for two-time losers.

Just as baloney rejects the grinder, Mrs. Bentley defies logic. Forgetting that it costs $60,000 a cell to build a prison and $30,000 a year to house an inmate, Mrs. Bentley says she'll cajole judges appointed by Republican presidents into allowing double-celling of inmates, something federal courts here have nixed.

But, then, every candidate is against crime and criminals. State Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski blends his East Baltimore populism with conservative flourishes. He's against gun control and favors the death penalty as well as eliminating parole for second-time violent offenders.

Parris Glendening, Democratic executive of Prince George's County, says in his TV ads that he'll be tough on repeat offenders, too.

Republican William Shepard is a crimebuster who wants to build more prisons and hire more police and parole officers.

Lt. Gov. Melvin "Mickey" Steinberg weighs in against crime by appearing in a campaign ad taped on the Baltimore street corner where his uncle was gunned down.

Turning from crime to the budget, Republican Del. Ellen Sauerbrey wants to exhume Reaganomics. She wants to reduce the capital gains tax and cut the state income tax by 24 percent. And along with that munificent gesture in a pauper's will, Mrs. Sauerbrey wants a freeze on state hiring and to eliminate some state jobs, as well as cut welfare programs.

Trouble is, Reaganomics won't work in Maryland because unlike the federal government the state doesn't print money, doesn't borrow money for operating costs, doesn't award defense contracts, doesn't control federal mandates and, above all, must have a balanced budget.

A key issue among the Democrats is the extravagant list of promises that Mr. Glendening has made in exchange for an equally generous list of political endorsements.

By rival Democrat Mr. Steinberg's accounting, Mr. Glendening has made $300 million in promises. Mr. Miedusiewski says it's more than $400 million. Meanwhile, Mr. Glendening has been tip-toeing away from his early promises; he's hinting that he'd also look for ways to cut taxes.

Even Gov. William Donald Schaefer has been dragged into the budget flap. Mr. Glendening's promises were defamed by Mr. Schaefer in his valedictory speech to the Maryland Association of Counties. He said it would be impossible for Mr. Glendening to make good on those pledges.

Mr. Glendening retaliated with an ad denouncing the Schaefer-Steinberg administration for the punishing round of state budget cuts that caused hardships for the counties. But by the time the cuts were imposed, Mr. Steinberg had already been frozen out of administration decisions after he refused to back Mr. Schaefer's tax plan.

For his own deficit reduction plan, Mr. Steinberg would abolish the state personnel department, which he considers redundant because every agency has its own personnel department. And to accompany this, Mr. Steinberg proposes revising all state aid formulas. He hasn't said how he would do it.

Mr. Miedusiewski would cut the real estate transfer tax as well as other programs. State Sen. Mary H. Boergers would raise the cigarette tax by a quarter. And Mr. Shepard would cut capital gains and real estate transfer taxes. At the same time he would increase aid to Baltimore.

But the kicker comes from Mrs. Bentley: In high dudgeon and low visibility, she'd like more accountability and less aid for the city.

It's the silly season for sure.

Frank A. DeFilippo writes on Maryland politics from Owings Mills.

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