ANNAPOLIS, JAN. 18 -- Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer, in a focused pep talk meant to turn attention to the future, asked lawmakers today to "be bold" by forging ahead with a gasoline tax increase, controls on growth and a ban on the sale of assault weapons.

"Anyone can lead when there is plenty of money and few problems. Anyone can lead when you accept the status quo, ignore the problems, lack vision," Schaefer told legislators in his annual State of the State address. "It's important we not succumb to melancholy paralysis . . . . One day the war will be over. One day we will be out of recession. Will we be ready?"

The speech, delivered in the House of Delegates to a joint session of the 187-member General Assembly, was delayed 20 minutes so legislators could hear President Bush's noon news conference on the Persian Gulf. As in his inaugural address Wednesday, given hours before the war began, Schaefer relied on the rhetoric of optimism to urge action locally despite world tensions.

"It's easy to do things the same old tired way . . . . We weren't elected to do that," Schaefer said today. Although many of Schaefer's central proposals had been floated in recent weeks, most legislators remain to be convinced that this is a good year to raise taxes or clamp down on growth.

"People out there, as I heard them . . . want some accountability, want to know where their money is going," said House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. (D-Kent), calling Schaefer's speech a "four-year vision," not a one-year agenda.

Similarly controversial are proposals on gun control and new school programs.

The 40-minute address was a departure for Schaefer, known for his extemporaneous and sometimes rambling oratory. During his first term, State of the State speeches ranged from flashy presentations featuring charts and audience participation to a morose soliloquy last year on mortality.

Today, Schaefer was upbeat, joking and direct, as if to show lawmakers he has overcome his widely publicized disappointment with the size of his victory last November (59 percent) and intends to remain an activist governor. Legislators called the speech -- in tone and delivery -- one of Schaefer's best.

"He seemed to be setting up the pattern of a working relationship {with the legislature}, something we have sorely needed in the past," said House Speaker Pro Tem Nancy K. Kopp (D-Montgomery).

"His speeches have improved markedly," said House Majority Leader D. Bruce Poole (D-Washington). Still, Poole said, extending the 5 percent sales tax to gasoline is going to be a difficult sell.

"The message itself is still full of 1980s optimism, and it has got to be buttressed by 1990s realities," Poole said. "He continues to have high ideas, but at high prices."

Although of keen interest to lawmakers, the gasoline tax increase and the justification for it earned only a few sentences in the speech, and members said more elaboration will be needed if it is to have a real chance of passing. Extending the 5 percent sales tax to gasoline is part of a $1 billion, five-year plan to replenish the state's transportation trust fund -- an effort some suburban lawmakers are supporting but that others give little chance of approval.

Schaefer said that without more money, highway construction will come to a virtual standstill, leaving heavily populated suburban counties without the roads they need and costing the state jobs.

"We can have in jeopardy 5,000 jobs in the state of Maryland," Schaefer warned. "Without additional money we can't get any more constructions. It's just that simple."

Many of the central initiatives in Schaefer's package, including a ban on sales of assault weapons and plans to hold gun owners reponsible for keeping firearms away from children, had been discussed before.

Plans for legislation to control growth have been under development for more than a year, but gubernatorial aides said today that Schaefer intends to give counties far more leeway in restricting development than had been recommended by the special commission that studied the issue. The intent, Schaefer said, is not to dilute local authority over land use but to more efficiently handle the addition of 1 million people to the state's population over the next 30 years.

He also announced a reforestation program that would try to stem the tree loss that environmentalists say contributes to the Chesapeake Bay's decline. The legislation will require counties to develop programs for encouraging developers to replant or avoid cutting down trees.

Schaefer also put the onus on lawmakers to relieve the state's tight finances, reminding them that a study panel last fall recommended tax changes that would raise an additional $800 million. Schaefer's forthcoming budget proposal is expected to be among the leanest in years, and he told lawmakers to expect cuts in popular programs.

"The well is dry," Schaefer said, "but there is a solution if you want one" -- namely the tax changes developed by a gubernatorial panel headed by Montgomery County lawyer R. Robert Linowes. "Read the Linowes report. Look at the budget and decide if you're ready to turn your backs on those who need us most."

The address did break some ground -- even for Schaefer's staff. Unexpectedly, the governor offered to have the state take over the Baltimore jail, an idea that Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has been pushing for months as a way to aid the financially strapped city.

But as Baltimore lawmakers applauded the apparent overture to Schmoke, with whom the governor frequently has feuded, Schaefer announced he would pay for the takeover -- which would cost about $40 million a year -- by ending a $38 million state subsidy to the Baltimore police department.

In an effort to help clear the air over the Maryland State Games, a sports promotion and anti-drug program that has become the focus of a criminal investigation, Schaefer announced the state's effort to attract the U.S. Olympic Festival will be turned over to state economic development officials.

Schaefer legislative aide David S. Iannucci deemed the governor's legislative agenda "creative," particularly given the state's financial problems. Indeed, the governor continues to show a fondness for big-ticket items but now must look harder for ways to pay for them.

For example, the governor wants to launch a $30 million school initiative with money that normally would go straight to county school systems in the form of grants. Under Schaefer's plan, the money would be targeted to schools that need help achieving new state standards, to a smaller group that exceed the standards and to help pay for expanded kindergarten programs.

HIGHLIGHTS OF SCHAEFER'S PROGRAM

Taxes: Apply the state's 5 percent sales tax to gasoline to help improve the transportation network; study a plan for $800 million in additional sales, income and personal property taxes.

Environment: Give the state more authority in land-use planning to restrict urban sprawl; encourage the preservation of forests; and tighten vehicle-emission regulations.

Education: Require 5-year-olds to attend kindergarten; provide incentive grants for schools with high performance records; and restructure the state scholarship program to direct aid to needy students.

Gun Control: Ban the sale of military-style assault weapons; require registration of assault weapons in private hands and require owners of firearms to keep them locked away from children.

Health and Welfare: Reorganize health and human resources departments to create a new agency that oversees both medical assistance and aid to families with dependent children.

Baltimore: Take over operation of the city jail and Baltimore Zoo to help ease the city's financial difficulties.

Insurance: Begin a fraud-prevention program and monitor insurance companies to ensure they are on sound financial footing.

Motor Vehicles: Step up enforcement of safety belt laws and require belts for all passengers younger than 10.