A time of plenty in Md. State House

Vast surplus: Legislature, governor should find ways to address state's most pressing needs

Agenda 2000

January 09, 2000

HOW enormous is Maryland's $1 billion surplus?

It would take Albert Belle, the Orioles' $13-million-a-year baseball slugger, 77 seasons to exhaust that reservoir of cash. He'd be 110 years old in his final game.

If the surplus were awarded to a lucky Marylander through a special lottery, the winner would receive a $1 million check every day for the next three years!

It's a staggering total -- some $1 billion in surplus funds, not counting proceeds from the state's settlement with tobacco companies or even more surplus funds expected when new revenue projections are made in March.

Yet that's what Gov. Parris N. Glendening happily faces as he puts the finishing touches on his budget request for the 2000 General Assembly session that begins Wednesday.

Everyone's hand is out, hoping for financial help. So far, the governor has resisted entreaties to plough the bulk of this money into ongoing operations, which would balloon the size of state government after the surplus has vanished and the nation's economic boom has inevitably ended.

Such imprudent moves, as well as major tax cuts, should be resisted this session. As the governor suggests, much of this money should be put toward improving public schools and universities through construction projects and technology and equipment purchases. These are one-time expenses that won't come back to haunt taxpayers in a recession.

At the same time, the immensity of this surplus gives the governor and lawmakers a rare opportunity to address major unmet needs in social services, transportation, education, drug treatment and the criminal justice system.

There are important non-financial issues that should be confronted, and controversies where financial aid is secondary to internal reforms. These are must-pass matters for senators and delegates, too.

What follows constitutes The Sun's editorial agenda for the 2000 General Assembly. We intend to give these issues close attention, with occasional status reports so readers can track what's happening -- or not happening -- in the State House.

We also urge readers to let us know what they think of the General Assembly's performance over the next three months. They can do so through our letters to the editor columns, which welcome opinions on the issues of the day. (See the box on this page for how to send us your letters.)

Here is our list of actions we think State House leaders ought to consider as their priorities:

Education

Endorse state school Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick's effort to end "social promotions" in schools through an early intervention program focused on tutoring and summer school classes as soon as pupils start falling behind.

Support the city school board's request for $25 million to expand pre-kindergarten programs, accelerate repairs and renovations and put computers in the classrooms. The request is carefully targeted to give the state's most troubled school system a much-needed financial boost.

Crime and punishment

Support an overhaul of the Department of Juvenile Justice that stresses rehabilitation, not just confinement. Follow-up probation work must be greatly expanded along with counseling and other programs aimed at keeping juveniles from getting into trouble once they return to their homes.

Hold leaders of Baltimore City's chaotic criminal-justice system accountable for implementing changes that end the backlog of cases, the bickering and the poor communications. This will require money for more prosecutors, public defenders, judges and police officers -- money well spent.

Give Mayor Martin O'Malley the full $25 million he seeks to expand Baltimore's drug-treatment program. Four out of five crimes in the city are drug-related. Creating more treatment slots should reduce the number of people hooked on narcotics and make Baltimore a safer, healthier place.

Transportation

Reduce the legislature's 50 percent fare-box mandate for buses and subway lines. Forcing the state to recover half of its expenses from fares is unrealistic. A 40-percent rate would be more in line with other cities. It would give transit officials a chance to expand existing transit services -- a must in the congested Baltimore and Washington regions.

Approve House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr.'s plan to earmark a penny out of every five-cent sales-tax charge to mass transit. It would shift revenue from one account to another. Maryland is $27 billion short of paying for its long-range transportation needs. This is a sensible way to finance essential mass transit construction.

Social services

Increase grants to single, disabled adults with no income who now fall through the federal "safety net." Those in this vulnerable group get just $132 a month -- not enough to rent a decent room.

Approve the Working Parents Education Act, which would provide tuition, tutoring, child care and books for low-income working adults who take courses at local community colleges. It's an excellent way to give them the skills to become fully self-sufficient.

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.