The Year Ahead in Maryland

January 02, 1995

What lies ahead for Maryland and the Baltimore region over the next 364 days? The Baltimore Sun's editorial prognosticators have looked into the future and come up with the following preview of events in the State House, City Hall and the five surrounding county seats of government for 1995.

Maryland

It's a new era in Annapolis. A governor with no state experience. A 44 percent turnover in the House. A 43 percent turnover in the Senate. A 64 percent increase in Republican legislators.

As usual, the governor sets the agenda. Parris Glendening says 1995 will be devoted to re-shaping state government -- that is, if Mr. Glendening withstands a furious legal challenge to his election by Republican Ellen Sauerbrey. This could turn into a court battle royale and even jeopardize inaugural plans on Jan. 18.

Assuming that Mr. Glendening takes the oath of office, downsizing and cutting costs will be priorities. A stronger state economy should provide enough new revenue to cut business (( taxes. Economic development will get high visibility.

The governor-elect is more of a consensus-seeker than outgoing Gov. William Donald Schaefer. That should ease tensions with the General Assembly. But Mr. Glendening may have a short honeymoon with Senate President Mike Miller, a longtime adversary.

Health-care, gambling and welfare will get close legislative attention. Doctors' attempts to break the power of managed-care companies will resurface, as will hospitals' attempts to get free-standing surgical centers under state regulation. Backers of casinos are paying lobbyists big bucks to sway legislators. And last year's welfare-reform bill stands a better chance of passing in 1995.

Meanwhile, a larger and more vocal GOP caucus in the House and Senate will make the State House a bit more partisan. Republicans are sure to put heat on Democrats to get tough with lobbyists and abolish the patronage scholarship program -- two crusades popular with voters.

Baltimore City

This will be a time of hectic activity in Baltimore as the city implements $100 million (or more) worth of empowerment zone redevelopment activities. Meanwhile, the Christopher Columbus Center for marine biotechnology will open on the Inner Harbor, the Metro subway extension to the all-important Johns Hopkins medical institutions will commence operations and conversion of the Fishmarket entertainment complex into a children's museum will begin.

Politics should dominate the city scene, though. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is seeking a third term, buttressed by his empowerment-zone victory. That forces City Council President Mary Pat Clarke to decide if she now has a realistic chance of beating him. If she drops out of the mayoral race, her decision will have a domino effect among many City Council members entertaining hopes for higher office.

Public schools are likely to be the topic of continuing controversy as privatization efforts are evaluated in more depth. Johns Hopkins trustees will select a new president.

In the police department, Commissioner Thomas Frazier will continue to strengthen the force, target crime-torn areas for remedial action and expand community policing.

Baltimore County

C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, the new Baltimore County executive, began his term the same way his predecessor, Roger Hayden, started his four years ago -- announcing that the county faces large budget deficits ($27 million projected over the next 18 months). The Democrat, who campaigned as a fiscal conservative, must quickly put his penny-pinching skills to the .. test.

Mr. Hayden came under sharp criticism for slashing government programs in too hard a manner. Can Mr. Ruppersberger make necessary cuts more humanely?

Both of the county's legislative groups experienced heavy turnover in the November elections.

Of the seven County Council members, five were just elected. Meanwhile, two-thirds of the county's Annapolis delegation are new, including for the first time senators and delegates based in Baltimore City and Howard County.

On the public school front, the relative calm of the past year or so continues. However, Superintendent Stuart Berger's next big headache might be the increasingly noisy debate over methods of reading instruction.

Harford County

This is the Year of the Pig on the Chinese calendar, but Harford countians should not expect a government feast. County Executive Eileen Rehrmann ordered a 5 percent budget cut recently, taking early action to avoid later troubles. She did the same thing last term, and the county ended up with $18 million in surplus funds.

There is economic justification. Local income tax revenues are stagnating, new housing starts are near a 10-year low, resales of existing houses are sharply down, and Harford's unemployment remains stuck above the statewide average. Conservative budgeting may forestall a property tax rate hike; expansion of services will be minimal.

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