IT WAS ABOUT time for Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer to shake off what had been a case of the executive blues and to snap back to rally the lawmakers in Annapolis and anyone else listening to his State of the State address Friday. Nothing he said will sweep aside the clouds of recession or grow money on the trees around the state house, but it's heartening to find the do-it-now governor once again thumping for some action. He could have been describing not only the state of the state but the personal state of the governor when he said, "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?"
Not all the lawmakers would answer in the affirmative once they heard all that Gov. Schaefer is ready to push. But his exhortation to "be bold" included a call for passage of some progressive measures. As expected, he called for new taxes on gasoline, essential to sustain the state's transportation program. Without these revenues, highway construction could be stopped in its tracks, the governor noted, adding that this would jeopardize thousands of jobs in the state and leave fast-growing suburban counties without the roads their populations will need.
Those growing populations should be directed to grow in the right places. Gov. Schaefer addressed this concern in embracing new controls on development as a way to help save the Chesapeake Bay. "Marylanders want orderly growth, not unrestricted costly sprawl," he said. This effort includes a proposal to stop tree loss through local programs of incentives for developers to spare or replant trees.
If the legislature wants to do something more to raise revenues and spread the income tax burden more fairly, Gov. Schaefer reminded members of the recommendations submitted by the Linowes Commission. This is the body he appointed to examine the financial structure of the state. Some of the commission's proposals bring shudders in Montgomery County, where income tends to be highest and tolerance for redistributing it lowest. But as the governor said, the legislators should take a serious look at what the commission is proposing.
Gov. Schaefer also put himself on the line for a ban on certain military-style assault weapons and for a measure to hold gun owners responsible for keeping firearms away from children. These two moves are being made in other states and have the strong support of law enforcement officials.
"Anyone can lead when there is plenty of money and few problems," said the reinvigorated governor. "Anyone can lead when you accept the status quo, ignore the problems, lack vision. ... It's easy to do things the same old tired way. ... We weren't elected to do that." Neither, presumably, were the members of the house and state senate. But how fully they buy the governor's list of things to do won't become clear until the bargaining chips start to fly.