Balkanizing Maryland Regional wars: Moves by Glendening, Duncan, Curry could divide, not unify, state.

October 05, 1997

INSTEAD OF moving closer together, some key Maryland political leaders have embarked on a strategy of divide and conquer. It amounts to a Balkanizing of Maryland, in which region is pitted against region and county against county, much as happened in the Balkan states after World War I.

This is a dangerous trend. It threatens to shatter the unifying atmosphere that has been nurtured in the General Assembly in recent years. Rosy revenue projections now have some politicians intent on grabbing much of the fiscal benefits for a few favored jurisdictions.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan, for instance, is actively trying to enlist Frederick County officials and Southern Maryland officials in a coalition to deny more state aid to Baltimore City. Sadly, Prince George's County Executive Wayne Curry, whose jurisdiction mirrors the city in many troubling aspects -- high crime and drug rates, poor-performing schools -- has joined this alliance. It is an attempt to form a regional "us against them" coalition, with "us" getting all the state goodies.

Gov. Parris Glendening has exacerbated matters by proposing a $250 million, multi-year school package just for Prince George's County. The proposal is splintering the legislature as lawmakers from other jurisdictions, especially Montgomery County, press for similar special treatment from the governor in exchange for their votes. Not coincidentally, currying favor with Montgomery and Prince George's is crucial to Mr. Glendening's re-election bid.

A county-by-county approach on education would undermine this state's long-standing policy of equitable treatment of school children -- regardless of where they live -- through an equalization formula. Last session's extraordinary aid package for Baltimore City schools gained widespread support because lawmakers recognized it was designed to address a unique education problem. It was never intended to set a precedent.

While there are, indeed, specific needs around the state that must be dealt with separately, state leaders should avoid policies that drive wedges between regions or create a contest between "winners" and "losers." That is the wrong way to go.

Maryland cannot afford a paralyzing civil war among the counties and the city. On-going efforts in the legislature to find statewide answers to statewide problems would suffer mightily. Division, not unity, would rule.

As Maryland prepares for the legislative run-up to the 1998 election season, voters should keep an eye on their leaders to see how they are behaving. Are they part of the problem in creating regional and political divides? Or are they part of the solution in working out differences among counties and finding common ground?

Pub Date: 10/05/97

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