O'Malley gets transition report

1,000-plus pages contain hints of tax-rise pressure, detail problems

February 23, 2007|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,Sun reporter

Gov. Martin O'Malley released more than 1,000 pages of documents from his transition team yesterday, reports that paint a stark picture of some troubled agencies and foreshadow pressure for tax increases to pay for schools, transportation and other priorities.

Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, who chaired the four-month transition effort, said the reports on 21 agencies and topics reflect the input of more than 1,000 volunteers and provide a roadmap for how to make Maryland's government work better.

"I present two volumes of logic and common sense," Brown said, hoisting huge three-ring binders into the governor's hands.

The administration released the reports as if they were a new Harry Potter novel - they are very nearly as long as one - with a crowd of staff members, supporters and volunteers applauding in the governor's reception room. Within a few minutes after the news conference broke up, two stacks of CD-ROMs containing the report were gone.

"Like a young kid that can't wait for Christmas, I have been reading these reports for the last month," O'Malley said.

The governor said his administration won't necessarily adopt all of the recommendations. But he said he will order his Cabinet secretaries to read the reports about their departments and to develop action plans within 45 days. O'Malley went through a similar process when he was elected mayor seven years ago, and he said those reports became the basis for much of what his administration did.

Some of the recommendations in yesterday's report are general and unlikely to stir controversy, such as a suggestion that the governor develop a signature initiative to improve education.

Others cut straight to contentious issues. The transportation work group, for example, said O'Malley will need to find a major new revenue source as early as next year to pay for roads, mass transit and other projects. The group suggested that the governor consider raising the gasoline tax - which has been unchanged since 1994 - by as much as a nickel a gallon.

"We think transportation is one of the most critical issues we face in the next four years, and especially the issue of transportation funding," said Don Fry, chairman of the Greater Baltimore Committee, who co-chaired the transition's transportation committee.

The elections committee recommended against adopting new voting machines until 2010. That would disappoint reform advocates who worry that Maryland's touch-screen voting machines are vulnerable to errors and manipulation.

Some of the reports include harsh criticism of the management of key state departments under O'Malley's predecessors, though they also say that the problems in some cases are long-standing rather than the sole responsibility of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., whom O'Malley defeated last year.

The committee that evaluated the Department of Juvenile Services found "an agency that is dangerously dysfunctional, trapped in a cycle of reacting to scandals and deferring proactive reforms."

The reports on corrections and the Department of Human Resources offer similarly grim criticism.

O'Malley said a major stumbling block for plans to improve state agencies is that virtually every transition group concluded that the agency it was looking at could do better if it had more money.

Given that the state is facing a gap between projected spending and revenues - a $1.3 billion "structural deficit" starting with the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2008 - that's not possible in the short run, O'Malley said. He didn't prescribe a solution but suggested that it will probably involve increasing taxes or other revenue sources.

"We are faced with a situation where the state is spending at a faster rate than it is taking in, and to face that we have to do two different things," O'Malley said. "We have to make government more effective and efficient so we can reduce the rate of spending, and we have to look at the diversity and sustainability of different revenue streams."

andy.green@baltsun.com

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