The Vicious Cycle of Cynicism That Is Holding Maryland Back

September 14, 1994|By STEWART BAINUM Jr.

In analyzing where Maryland stands as we reach the threshold of the next century, we see, unfortunately, significant backsliding or at least stagnation.

For instance, in education, crime and jobs, clearly the three main issues in this election, the state has been unable to make much progress over the past eight years. SAT scores have gone nowhere, the prison population continues to swell as Maryland inches toward the top of the nation in violent crime, and the hemorrhaging of our manufacturing job base continues. Urban areas of the state continue their decay; suburban areas are increasingly invaded by the traffic and crime which were previously restrained by the city limits.

There is no chief villain in this tragedy. There is no single hero who will deliver the state from its problems. However, all Maryland's political leaders must spend more of their time and invest some of their political capital in tackling these issues openly and honestly, rather than simply engaging in poll-driven political posturing.

Politicians should follow the courageous lead of State Schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick and stop pandering to vested interests within the educational establishment that are more concerned with their own economic well-being than with the intellectual well-being of students. We must address the core issues of accountability on the part of teachers and students if we want to repair the system.

Politicians have to keep their hands off the hot button of fear. The death penalty can make us feel a little better, but it never brought back one victim.

We must concentrate our efforts on preventing crime, not on cleaning up after crimes. We need to put more police on the streets and out of offices full of paperwork. We need to stop the flow of deadly handguns and ammunition into the hands of criminals. Violent criminals must serve longer terms, but unless we are willing to engage in another round of costly prison construction, we must keep non-violent offenders out of jail. And we need to ensure that criminals leave jail with some skills and work habits that will enable them to live productively in society.

To create more jobs, the state should provide tax credits to private-sector companies that make long-term investments in our state rather than fund public-sector development boondoggles. If we are to spend taxpayers' money on economic development, we owe a good return on investment in terms of jobs created and future economic activity.

Civil-service reform is essential. State government still runs as it did in the 1950s. We must modernize the personnel system to enable managers to promote and reward excellent workers, and to terminate those who chronically underperform. The concept of life tenure in government is outdated.

Candidates for office have a responsibility to show how their plans for new spending will affect the projected billion-dollar deficit that will develop over the next four years if current levels of spending continue.

Most important, state political leaders must work to reduce the mistrust that exists among the four regions of Maryland. Factionalism prevents us from working together to solve our problems, and assists Virginia's and Pennsylvania's efforts to plunder our job base. Maryland is in competition with its neighbors; we must unite to succeed.

The political system in this state, and I believe in the rest of our country is trapped in a vicious cycle. Voter cynicism about politicians leads to taxpayer cynicism about government, which in turn leads to politicians who are afraid to act on our major problems.

It is up to the politicians to break the loop by offering serious talk about our state's problems and challenges. Exploitation of voters' fears and prejudices will not suffice.

Stewart Bainum Jr., CEO of the Manor Care nursing homes, decided against running for governor this year.

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