Handicapping the New Governor

January 07, 1995

By now, Parris N. Glendening should be comfortably ensconced in his second-floor State House suite putting together his first budget as governor of Maryland. Instead, he's caught in a constitutional twilight zone that forbids him from setting a fiscal agenda for the state and instead locks him into accepting many of the decisions being made these days by his predecessor.

It's unfair to any incoming governor -- and especially unfair to Maryland taxpayers and voters. The procedure is also unfair to Gov. William Donald Schaefer, whose lame duck status is prolonged under the constitution until Jan. 18. This too-long transition has become painful for both Mr. Schaefer and Mr. Glendening.

How much better it would be if Maryland adopted the practice followed by many other states of inaugurating the new governor on Jan. 1. That gives the new governor time enough to assemble a staff and cabinet and the outgoing governor time enough to tie together loose ends. It also would give the new Maryland governor nearly three weeks to formulate his own budget to present to the General Assembly.

When the legislature begins its 90-day session next Wednesday, it can't even look to the governor's office for leadership and guidance: Mr. Schaefer remains chief executive for a week beyond that point, but everyone knows it is transitory. The real decisions on executive leadership must be delayed until Mr. Glendening is formally sworn in and settles in as Maryland's 59th governor.

This interregnum helps no one. Precious legislative weeks in January are wasted. The outgoing governor knows he's not wanted any longer but must put on a theatrical smile and persevere till Inauguration Day. No work of consequence is done within the bureaucracy to prepare the new governor's legislative or fiscal agenda because that would be viewed as intruding on the prerogatives of the outgoing governor.

It's a mess. The weaknesses in the current set-up cry out for change. Either Mr. Glendening or the legislative leadership should introduce a constitutional amendment to shift Inauguration Day to Jan. 1 following the quadrennial election. Why make government transitions more complicated and illogical than necessary?

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