As political strategy it may be prove much too Mondalian, but Maryland Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs -- running hard and uphill for governor -- says he's for a tax increase. In what he considers the "centerpiece" of his campaign, Mr. Sachs is proposing a one-cent increase in the state's sales tax to provide $250 million more a year for public education. He calls it "a penny for excellence . . . for high standards . . . for our futures . . . for our children." Whatever else others may call it, the proposal has automatically accomplished two things: 1)it has drawn attention to his candidacy, which seems to have been a secret in Greater Schaeferland, where the mayor of Baltimore so far has been killing the attorney general in the polls on the race for the Democratic nomination; and 2)it has made public education an issue, which it surely should be.
Mayor William Don Schaefer is dismissing the proposal, arguing that there's enough money around already to finance an increase for education. Carefully sparing everyone any details -- which is consistent with his campaign style so far -- Mr. Schaefer says that better management of school budgets is more important and could do the job. But Mr. Sachs is talking about more than mere injections of money into existing systems. His package would tie education assistance to job development, higher salaries for the recruitment and retention of teachers and efforts to lower the dropout rate and curb alcohol and drug abuse among students.
Education should be the No. 1 issue for the state government. And in arguing for what has been dubbed the "Sachs tax," the attorney general points out that Maryland ranks seventh in the country in wealth but 35th in spending on public education. Among other things, his proposal would provide $16 million for prekindergarten classes in 470 elementary schools for about 16,000 4-year- olds from poor families; and $14 million for a jobs program for high school graduates meeting certain grade, attendance and behavior standards, which would pay half the minimum-wage salaries for one year in a private sector jobs.
Mr. Sachs believes that given time to consider the positive effects of such an increase, voters will accept his tax proposal. We'll see, but it's worth exploring and debating as a test of Maryland's commitment. Asked if he had shot himself in the foot politically, Mr. Sachs replied, "If I did, I took very careful aim."