Privatize the governor's yacht

March 24, 1995

It's politically embarrassing for the governor of Maryland to take his family for a Sunday outing aboard the state's own yacht. Even though that's one of the intended purposes of the craft. Even though the Maryland Independence would otherwise sit idly in Annapolis harbor with a full crew.

In these times of intense skepticism of public officials, the mere thought of a governor cruising in a state-owned yacht raises hackles. It is a symbol of wealth and privilege that a popularly elected official should avoid. Better for Gov. Parris N. Glendening to take a vow of poverty and lead his thread-bare family on a walking tour of the capital city for their weekly entertainment. That would quell the critics.

And yet, Mr. Glendening is governor of Maryland, responsible for a $14 billion business that employs 80,000 people. Why shouldn't he use what's available to relax and unwind? Why shouldn't he hop on the yacht to promote Maryland with business leaders thinking of relocating or expanding their operations?

For a state with a major investment in boating, maritime affairs, seafood production and recreational enjoyment of Chesapeake Bay, a governor without access to a seaworthy craft is unthinkable. The $180,000 a year in maintenance and staffing expenses is worth it in terms of economic development efforts, entertaining other VIP guests this state needs to impress and rewarding volunteers and charitable groups for jobs well done.

But political realities must be recognized. Just as Mr. Glendening is privatizing some of the state's economic development efforts, he should also privatize the state yacht.

The governor's economic development secretary, James Brady, could form a non-profit foundation of business and civic leaders to operate the Maryland Independence. He shouldn't have trouble finding enough money to eventually buy the yacht from the state at an appraised price. Foundation fund-raising could pay for most of the upkeep. Charging corporate sponsors fat fees for renting the yacht occasionally ought to cover other costs.

This arrangement would let the yacht continue in service as a tool to boost the Maryland economy, to reward hard-working state employees, to help charitable groups, to host prestigious functions and to let the governor cruise the Chesapeake for work and play -- all without burdening the taxpayer.

Then Mr. Glendening could sit back, relax and enjoy his bay excursions.

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