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Sensible plan to help Maryland's have-nots; Distressed areas: Baltimore and five rural counties, gripped by social and economic decline, need state aid.


FIFTY years ago, they were thriving; today, Baltimore and five rural counties lead the state in all the wrong categories -- highest unemployment, lowest family income, fewest new jobs, most children in poverty, highest percentage of Medicaid and Medicare recipients, lowest percentage of high school graduates, lowest home values.

By almost every measurement, Baltimore City and Allegany, Garrett, Somerset, Worcester (excluding Ocean City) and Dorchester counties are faltering. They are the have-nots of Maryland, caught in a downward spiral without the resources to pull themselves out of their chronic local depressions.

State government never has made a broad, sustained effort to rescue its most distressed jurisdictions. Assistance is sporadic and narrowly focused on specific shortcomings, such as Baltimore's woeful public school system or Garrett County's loss of a major employer.

More enduring efforts are required. One good idea has been proposed by House Speaker Casper R. Taylor of Cumberland. It is aimed at igniting economic development through a $40 million revolving loan fund to turn vacant land into ready-to-use commercial and industrial locations. The money might even pay for construction of buildings ready for immediate occupancy.

Linked to this fund would be tax credits giving companies that bring jobs into these areas breaks on income and payroll taxes. The idea is to make these sites irresistible for companies looking for a new location and a good deal.

Mr. Taylor's plan is a welcome first step that would help bring jobs to regions that sorely need more year-round employment.

It was unfortunate that Gov. Parris N. Glendening failed to put money in his budget to support Mr. Taylor's bill. But the governor has indicated this can be handled in a supplemental appropriation.

Now Mr. Taylor must persuade his colleagues to help Maryland's worst-off communities. There should be a long-term effort in Annapolis to narrow the gap between this state's haves and have-nots.

Pub Date: 2/17/99

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