Enter O’Malley

The new administration has now been in office for nine months, an acceptable period of gestation, and it is now not too early for a preliminary assessment. Let us first accentuate some positive developments:
1. The administration appears to have placed the Departments of Public Safety and of Juvenile Services in the hands of fully qualified professionals, who have made difficult and overdue decisions.
2. The administration has made serious improvements in the handling of environmental issues. Historic tax credits and open space funds have been enhanced. There has been long-overdue enforcement of air pollution constraints against Baltimore’s public utility.
3. Qualified people have been appointed to preside over the Public Service Commission and the office of the Insurance Commissioner, the two most important regulatory agencies. The administration has not indulged the illusion that in a mixed economy, ‘business-friendliness’ is demonstrated by appointing semi-competent regulators.

Here, however, the list of positive accomplishments ends. There are a series of disquieting developments, suggesting that the administration’s style is to demagogue issues while paying off the customary Democratic interest groups:

1. No progress was made during the administration’s first year in office in seriously addressing the structural deficit, even though time is money in budget matters. The administration’s vaunted budget cuts have consisted almost entirely of the non-filling of some vacant positions, a form of ‘reduction’ for which no political price need be paid.

2. The administration squandered a substantial portion of the ‘rainy day’ fund on a massive $400 million plus school construction program, now at twenty times the level prevailing at the end of the Hughes administration. The program operates as a subsidy to bad zoning, renders local officials participants in an annual beg-a-thon, and results in the construction of schools which, by reason of the state prevailing wage law, not applicable to local construction, are substantially more expensive than locally-constructed schools. Notwithstanding the full state funding, the state has imposed no architectural standards on the resulting buildings, most of which resemble warehouses lifted from an industrial park. No one seriously thinks that the under-performance of Maryland students is due to deficiencies in bricks and mortar. The program is essentially a large gift to the construction unions. It is also notorious that the school boards receiving new buildings are also very slow to close old under-utilized ones, and that the state’s capital gifts thereby aggrandize locally-borne maintenance costs.

3. In another gift to unions, in this case public employee unions, the administration has signed into law the nation’s first statewide ‘living wage’ law requiring state contractors to pay minimum wages at least 50% more than those required in the private sector. The administration, and the legislature’s compliant fiscal note-writers, claim, not altogether convincingly, that this measure results in limited initial costs to state government. This contention disguises the real purpose of the law: not to protect or enhance the position of employees of present state contractors, but to deter the further contracting out of food service, janitorial service, security services, and printing services of state institutions by causing the labor costs of private contractors to equal or approach those of the state bureaucracy. The legacy of this is quite predictable: indifferently cleaned state buildings, maintained by a labor force having no incentive to introduce labor-saving machinery; indifferently prepared food in state cafeterias subjected to inadequate competitive disciplines; the predictable rise, in new sectors of the economy, of ‘double breasted’ labor forces like those prevailing in the building trades; higher costs on new state contracts, as they renew; a general slackness and seediness throughout an insulated and self-protective bureaucracy, whose members know that they can no longer be replaced by private competitors; and decreased employment opportunities for unskilled and semi-skilled workers.

4. The Governor also assumed by executive order to do what the legislature had declined to do by statute: extend collective bargaining to home health care workers not employed by the state. The burden of this falls first on nonprofit state contractors and ultimately on the state fisc. As a former teachers’ union official, Myron Lieberman, has pointed out, public employee collective bargaining is not really collective bargaining, it is simply politics

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