The Year Ahead in Maryland Outlook: Elections, growth plans are among issues facing state, region.

January 01, 1998

TO KICK OFF 1998, we decided to identify the key issues likely to be in the headlines during the coming year. Here are our thoughts on what's likely to happen -- and what should happen -- in the state, city and suburbs:

Maryland

STATE LEADERS will split 1998 into two parts: The governing portion, which ends in the spring with the conclusion of the General Assembly session, and the political portion, which concludes with the fall elections.

Thanks to a strong economy, Gov. Parris Glendening has $260 million in extra funds to disburse. Much of it will go for schools -- a wise investment. If he tries to expand programs with the money, expect a fight from fiscal conservatives who wield budget power. Caution is key to avoiding future deficits.

In coming months, the state prosecutor will reach a judgment on allegations of ethics violations by West Baltimore Sen. Larry Young. That could play a role in both the legislative session and summer political season.

Any attempt to legalize casino slot machines in the General Assembly must be squelched. That includes a plan by the House speaker to sidestep a direct legislative vote through a fall referendum.

All 188 seats in the General Assembly will be up for grabs in November. So will 26 county council members in the Baltimore region, three county commissioners, four county executives, circuit court judges, state's attorneys, eight members of Congress, one U.S. senator, the governor, comptroller and attorney general. It is Maryland's biggest year in the quadrennial election cycle. What a grand time for candidates to discuss issues in depth rather than relying on sloganeering and costly advertising.

Anne Arundel Co.

DEALING WITH a robust economy and burgeoning population are Anne Arundel's challenges. The county must follow through with its detailed small-area plans to ensure that growth is indeed channeled into areas already served by public utilities and away from rural and environmentally sensitive regions.

Anne Arundel's school board must adopt a comprehensive redistricting plan that eliminates classroom overcrowding. The board must also get serious about a long-range maintenance program to reduce a dangerous $60 million backlog of school repairs.

In Annapolis, new mayor Dean L. Johnson must repair the city's frayed relations with county government. Cooperation is essential on the periphery, where traffic problems continue to compound and new construction siphons businesses out of the state capital. In addition, Mr. Johnson should re-examine his opposition to a Annapolis conference center. Construction of such a facility is crucial to West Street's revitalization.

Baltimore City

WITH THE $220 million Ravens football stadium opening in August, 1998 ought to be a year of sports, tourism and stepped-up economic development.

Jackhammers are already demolishing the concrete innards of the Power Plant for an ESPN Zone, a 10,000-square-foot prototype venue combining high-tech sports viewing with dining. The same noise soon begins inside Harborplace for a Planet Hollywood restaurant.

To the east, developers hope to break ground on their controversial 41-story skyscraper hotel. It is incumbent upon the Baltimore Development Corp. to give a quick go-ahead for a hotel next to the Convention Center -- or propose some other alternative for adding a nearby hotel. The future of the Convention Center hangs in the balance.

We urge the Schmoke administration to maximize the city's tourism potential. One easy way: make sure visitors find badly needed hotel rooms within easy walking distance of the Baltimore Convention Center.

Baltimore County

FOR THREE YEARS, County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger has pledged millions for improvements to older communities on the west and east sides; now there must be visible progress -- to attract economic development and encourage middle-class families to stay. School construction and renovation of the county's aging inventory of education buildings are crucial.

A new master plan ought to be approved in 1998. We think it should include specific guidelines for both community and rural conservation. Having rightly striven to concentrate growth in designated areas, the county now must ensure that it is done with a view toward aesthetics; a sense of place; a mixture of residential, commercial and civic uses, and decreased orientation around the automobile. Countians must learn from the mistakes made in White Marsh and Owings Mills, which are less towns than collections of automobile-dependent subdivisions.

It also is time for the county to act on child welfare problems following the outrage over the death of 9-year-old Rita Fisher -- specifically, the low salaries for case workers. The local social services agency has been unable to attract applicants for new positions to handle an increase in reports of child abuse. If children are as important to us as the outrage over Rita's death indicates, we must be willing to pay a bit more to help ensure their safety.

Howard County

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