In this space last year, The Post highlighted the opening of the Maryland legislative session with this headline: "In Annapolis, It's Crime." As we approach the opening of the 1983 session on Wednesday, we face a crime of a different sort: too many Marylanders have lost jobs and cannot find new ones.
The ability to work is fundamental to the well-being of our people, and Maryland is threatened by the national economic crisis. The No. 1 priority of the 1983 session of the General Assembly must be to improve job opportunities for our people.
Recognizing that government alone cannot accomplish this goal, the president of the State Senate and I recently convened a special jobs task force. This task force, which will report its findings by Wednesday, has brought labor, business and government officials together to determine what legislative and other actions would be most constructive.
Alternatives being considered include implementation of the federal Job Training Partnership Act by the state and local government; assisting in making venture capital available to businesses that want to locate in Maryland; developing an engineering research center to promote the creation of jobs in high-tech areas; expansion of international trade in Maryland; and waiving tuition requirements at our public institutions to assist in retraining dislocated workers.
As this suggests, there never has been a greater need for creativity and bold leadership in state government. Faced with a budget deficit of $125 million, with a national recession of alarming proportions, and with rising expectations of local governments that the state can solve their fiscal problems, the General Assembly will be severely tested.
Two years ago, I was optimistic about the capacity of state and local government to assume the increased responsibilities thrust upon them by President Reagan's "New Federalism." That optimism was based on my belief that government that is closest to the people is the most accountable and efficient. But what we have experienced has not been true federalism; on the contrary, it has been a series of federal fund reductions disguised as federalism. Instead of the promised "sorting out" of responsibility and increased flexibility in administering programs, we have seen 25 percent fewer funds available for social programs.
Obviously, the shock waves caused by a national budget crisis cannot be absorbed by states, such as Maryland, that have constitutional mandates to balance their budgets. But we in state government have an obligation to reduce the impact on our citizens.
During last year's session, we were able to save some important programs severely affected by federal reductions. For instance, we increased state aid to local governments to help reduce their reliance on property taxation. We increased state support for noninstitutional programs for the elderly. We enacted a legal services program and a student loan program by leveraging private dollars with public funds. This kind of selectivity and partnership with the private sector will be essential again this year.
To find the resources to cope with the fiscal problems associated with our national economy, and to eliminate the Maryland budget deficit, will not be easy. The governor has indicated that he hopes to obtain the funds required by returning some corporate income tax revenue from the transportation trust fund to the state's general fund and by utilizing instant lotteries. Both of these proposals will be controversial in the legislature.
Fiscal issues, of course, will not be the only matters of interest. During the next 90 days, the General Assembly will consider more than 3,000 legislative proposals.
Crime continues to ravage our neighborhoods and threaten our citizens, and remains high on our agenda. Among decisions to be made are those relating to the location of new penal facilities for adult and juvenile offenders, whether to modify the insanity defense and whether to increase penalties for handgun violators.
Critical issues regarding the environment, education, transportation, taxes, housing and public utilities all require solutions during this session. As the federal government backs away from some of its traditional obligations, the importance of state government increases. I hope the public will become better informed and more involved in state government. What we do in Annapolis directly affects the future of every Marylander.