`One Maryland' can be more than a slogan

Regionalism: House speaker's vision of a state without `fiefdoms' may be closer than doubters imagine.

May 31, 1999

HOUSE Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr.'s continuing call for a unified approach to Maryland's economic, political and social problems qualifies as daring political leadership.

The mere mention of more revenue sharing between the have-not and have counties, let alone programs that would disperse the urban poor into suburbs, has been enough to start firestorms of citizen opposition.

But Mr. Taylor, a conservative Democrat from Western Maryland, challenges Maryland legislators and voters to rethink their instinctive opposition to new ideas.

Approval this past legislative session of his "One Maryland" package of economic development bills for the state's pockets of poverty -- Western Maryland, Baltimore and the lower Eastern Shore -- was not a radical departure from current approaches. But it should not be minimized.

The political and public mood is not generally conducive to sharing. Mr. Taylor is moving against the grain. He is right to suggest that Maryland is imprisoned by little-picture thinking regarding regionalism -- or no thinking at all.

The city, he said recently at a forum convened by the Citizens Planning and Housing Association of Baltimore, is choking within ancient and artificial boundaries. Its ability to free itself is constrained from within as well as without: The city wants to maintain political autonomy -- foolishly wishing to avoid its obvious need for help; county residents conversely are expected to oppose association with their urban neighbors. Race, class and political ambition help to explain the resistance, Mr. Taylor correctly points out.

In his home county, Allegany, a welter of taxing districts, municipalities, police departments and other governmental entities operate without economies of scale. One startling result: Total taxes paid by residents of Cumberland equal those paid in the city of Baltimore, Taylor points out.

Radical restructuring is not likely. Some practical first steps could be taken to establish trust and a climate for discussion. Mr. Taylor says Baltimore must prove it can manage its affairs, submitting to performance audits. Del. Howard P. Rawlings of Baltimore has been ahead of the speaker on this issue, holding state education money until the city keeps its commitments.

Examples of pragmatic regional politics are not as difficult to find as some imagine. Last year, Baltimore legislators voted for a milk price bill that would help Frederick dairy farmers -- after one or two Frederick politicians risked their careers by voting for a Baltimore school aid package.

This year, Montgomery County gave Baltimore a hand on a bill reducing the residency requirement for mayoral candidates -- a move that would have allowed NAACP President Kweisi Mfume to run. Mr. Rawlings supported an array of Montgomery aid requests even before the residency matter arose.

Tougher issues loom, to be sure. Tax-base sharing, for example. But what is state government if not a mechanism for sharing wealth?

At the CPHA conclave, Mr. Taylor was preaching to the choir: The out-of-the-box thinkers there have been willing to entertain new ideas for a half a century.

More Marylanders must join them.

Pub Date: 5/31/99

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.