Governor should veto ill-advised port bill

Docking pilots: Monopoly for tugboat operators could make Baltimore uncompetitive.

May 17, 2000

FUNNY THINGS happen in the waning days of the General Assembly's annual 90-day session. Take the bill revamping the way docking pilots operate in the port of Baltimore.

It had been approved by the Senate and was on the verge of gaining final House passage when lobbyists for the Association of Maryland Bay Pilots got the House speaker to add five pages of confusing amendments.

The result is a measure that now merits a veto from Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

In its present form, this bill creates what one knowledgeable delegate calls an "iron-hand monopoly" in control of all docking operations in the port. The likelihood of higher costs would be yet another negative against the port of Baltimore in its uphill effort to increase cargo shipments.

What is now a highly competitive situation among tugboat companies would evaporate. The bay pilots would be in a position to dictate policy to Baltimore tugboat owners, who no longer could employ their own docking pilots.

And since the bay pilots would control the new regulatory board set up in this bill, there would be no incentive to either hold down docking rates or to take a hard line against the pilots on safety or operating matters.

Both the state and maritime business at the port would lose leverage. The bill greatly enhances the bay pilots' union, which already is creating problems for port officials trying to bring new business to Baltimore.

Even delegates who voted for this rewritten bill now are quietly asking the governor to save them from their stupidity. Port business leaders are fearful that a new, monopolist union will drive away potential shippers and return Baltimore to the days when it was known for its hostile labor climate.

There is a better way. The governor should veto this bill and then create a well-balanced task force to come up with a more sensible plan to regulate docking pilots.

One prominent state leader has called this bill "the worst piece of legislation of 2000." It should not be signed by Governor Glendening. It could do great harm to the port of Baltimore and to those who rely on the port's maritime trade for their livelihood.

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