Letters To The Editor

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

January 02, 2008

Public planning often works well

As a scholar and a regular consumer of policy analyses, I am rarely surprised by the occasional screed from the Cato Institute against some form or other of governmental regulation. So I was not taken aback when I read the column by Randal O'Toole, a senior fellow with the Cato Institute, railing against governmental planning ("When government plans, it usually fails," Opinion

Commentary, Dec. 27).

What surprised me was that The Sun, an otherwise reasonable newspaper, would publish such blatant ideological hogwash.

Does anyone believe that all governmental planning is bad and that all governmental planning produces only bad results? This is utter nonsense. It's ideologically pure, perhaps, but nonsense nevertheless.

Governments at all levels in the United States engage in planning and have done so for a very long time - from military planning to organizational planning to budgetary planning to project planning to land-use planning and much more.

Planning per se is not bad.

This is true even though some governmental plans are undoubtedly bad and some are only so-so.

But others are splendid and do in fact produce desired and desirable results.

Donald F. Norris

Catonsville

The writer is chairman of the department of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

User fees distort immigration system

Randal O'Toole's assessment of the relative merits of public and private planning is full of glittering generalities, and, as would be expected from a senior fellow with the Cato Institute, in his view, all that is public is "bad" and all that is private is "good" ("When government plans, it usually fails," Opinion

Commentary, Dec. 27).

For Mr. O'Toole's sake, and that of his argument, it's just as well that he avoids specifics.

Take, for example, his claim that "the best-managed government programs are funded out of user fees that effectively make government managers act like private owners."

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service is one such program, and it is anything but well-managed. Its inability to process petitions for visas and green cards in a timely fashion, for instance, is one of the primary reasons for the large number of undocumented aliens in the United States.

Even when USCIS increases its fees, bad management remains the rule. A recent increase in the fee for citizenship petitions and visa applications led to a last-minute rush of new filings before the increase went into effect.

Good management, and the foresight that goes along with it, would have led to a corresponding increase in staff to handle the rush. Instead, poor management has helped add nine months to the waiting time for aliens who want to become citizens.

This raises a general point about user fees that Mr. O'Toole fails to acknowledge.

User fees, in general, are a cowardly way of funding government services. They force the cost of certain services onto a captive audience that depends on them, sometimes in essential ways.

They are, however, a politically popular way of avoiding across-the-board tax increases that could spread the pain of payment more evenly and more affordably.

Given the very real link between an effective immigration system and national security, fairness dictates that everyone help pay for a system that respects the needs of immigrants and the interests we all share in a safer society.

Stephen Rourke Cynthia Rosenberg Baltimore

The writers are immigration attorneys.

Donations opened doors to Dixon's ball

The Sun's article "$730,000 in gifts paid for Dixon gala" (Dec. 29) focused too much on donations and ignored the true spirit of the inaugural ball.

Although corporations did donate to the event, the cost per person was only $50, and the event was open to the public. The result was a culturally, geographically, economically, politically and socially diverse crowd that was an accurate reflection of the citizens of Baltimore.

Without corporate donations, the cost per ticket would have been substantially higher, resulting in a much less diverse crowd.

David Placher

Baltimore

The writer was a member of Mayor Sheila Dixon's inaugural ball committee.

A different option for troubled youths

The public is definitely entitled to better security and protection on the streets and public transportation than we are now receiving from the Maryland Transit Administration, the schools and police.

But just kicking youthful offenders off the bus - only to have them end up boarding another bus or facing incarceration, which only facilitates their further deterioration - is certainly not the answer.

A more positive approach should immediately be taken to salvage the lives of young offenders by placing them in a youth rehabilitation center.

The goal would be for them to eventually receive a high school diploma and earn the chance for higher education or meaningful employment.

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