Check-list for General Assembly Three weeks to go: Campaign finance reform, school aid, 'Smart Growth' must pass.

March 16, 1997

HEADING INTO the final three weeks of the 1997 General Assembly session, Maryland legislators confront a mountain of unfinished work, a lack of cohesion on key issues and considerable jockeying for political advantage. More so than most years, all eyes are focused on the budget battle, which by law must conclude March 31.

Why is the budget so critical? Because the fate of many other bills depends on its final shape. Unless large cuts are made, there won't be enough room for a responsible income-tax cut. A big aid package for Baltimore City schools won't pass unless there is enough money available, after budget cuts, to give county schools more money, too.

As legislators grapple with the session's toughest questions, here is a check-list:

Pass a balanced budget that doesn't jeopardize future funding of social programs or harm economic development.

Lower the state income-tax rate as part of this economic-development effort, but raise the tobacco tax to help replace lost revenue.

Endorse the court-approved plan to revamp Baltimore's school bureaucracy, impose tough accountability standards and raise the state's financial support of city schools.

Approve a 'Smart Growth' package aimed at discouraging suburban sprawl that costs taxpayers and harms the environment.

Enact meaningful election-law reforms to computerize campaign finance reports, increase the frequency of these reports and give the state prosecutor more tools and more time to handle violations.

Come up with a stopgap plan to help Maryland's embattled race tracks, but without turning to electronic slot machines for salvation.

Kill bills extending the life of "charity" casinos in Prince George's County, and defeat all other gambling measures.

Block attempts to defy the federal government on vehicle emissions inspection tests.

Avoid divisive, lengthy and bitter floor fights over outlawing partial-birth abortions.

Bury efforts to impose milk price-controls on Maryland consumers and processors.

A cautious, common-sense approach is essential in these final weeks. Counter-productive legislation, usually part of someone's political agenda, should be avoided at all costs.

Pub Date: 3/16/97

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