The Baltimore Sun

Public planning often works well

As a scholar and a regular consumer of policy analyses, I am rarely surprised by the occasional screed from the Cato Institute against some form or other of governmental regulation. So I was not taken aback when I read the column by Randal O'Toole, a senior fellow with the Cato Institute, railing against governmental planning ("When government plans, it usually fails," Opinion

Commentary, Dec. 27).

What surprised me was that The Sun, an otherwise reasonable newspaper, would publish such blatant ideological hogwash.

Does anyone believe that all governmental planning is bad and that all governmental planning produces only bad results? This is utter nonsense. It's ideologically pure, perhaps, but nonsense nevertheless.

Governments at all levels in the United States engage in planning and have done so for a very long time - from military planning to organizational planning to budgetary planning to project planning to land-use planning and much more.

Planning per se is not bad.

This is true even though some governmental plans are undoubtedly bad and some are only so-so.

But others are splendid and do in fact produce desired and desirable results.

Donald F. Norris


The writer is chairman of the department of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

User fees distort immigration system

Randal O'Toole's assessment of the relative merits of public and private planning is full of glittering generalities, and, as would be expected from a senior fellow with the Cato Institute, in his view, all that is public is "bad" and all that is private is "good" ("When government plans, it usually fails," Opinion

Commentary, Dec. 27).

For Mr. O'Toole's sake, and that of his argument, it's just as well that he avoids specifics.

Take, for example, his claim that "the best-managed government programs are funded out of user fees that effectively make government managers act like private owners."

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service is one such program, and it is anything but well-managed. Its inability to process petitions for visas and green cards in a timely fashion, for instance, is one of the primary reasons for the large number of undocumented aliens in the United States.

Even when USCIS increases its fees, bad management remains the rule. A recent increase in the fee for citizenship petitions and visa applications led to a last-minute rush of new filings before the increase went into effect.

Good management, and the foresight that goes along with it, would have led to a corresponding increase in staff to handle the rush. Instead, poor management has helped add nine months to the waiting time for aliens who want to become citizens.

This raises a general point about user fees that Mr. O'Toole fails to acknowledge.

User fees, in general, are a cowardly way of funding government services. They force the cost of certain services onto a captive audience that depends on them, sometimes in essential ways.

They are, however, a politically popular way of avoiding across-the-board tax increases that could spread the pain of payment more evenly and more affordably.

Given the very real link between an effective immigration system and national security, fairness dictates that everyone help pay for a system that respects the needs of immigrants and the interests we all share in a safer society.

Stephen Rourke Cynthia Rosenberg Baltimore

The writers are immigration attorneys.

Donations opened doors to Dixon's ball

The Sun's article "$730,000 in gifts paid for Dixon gala" (Dec. 29) focused too much on donations and ignored the true spirit of the inaugural ball.

Although corporations did donate to the event, the cost per person was only $50, and the event was open to the public. The result was a culturally, geographically, economically, politically and socially diverse crowd that was an accurate reflection of the citizens of Baltimore.

Without corporate donations, the cost per ticket would have been substantially higher, resulting in a much less diverse crowd.

David Placher


The writer was a member of Mayor Sheila Dixon's inaugural ball committee.

A different option for troubled youths

The public is definitely entitled to better security and protection on the streets and public transportation than we are now receiving from the Maryland Transit Administration, the schools and police.

But just kicking youthful offenders off the bus - only to have them end up boarding another bus or facing incarceration, which only facilitates their further deterioration - is certainly not the answer.

A more positive approach should immediately be taken to salvage the lives of young offenders by placing them in a youth rehabilitation center.

The goal would be for them to eventually receive a high school diploma and earn the chance for higher education or meaningful employment.

This would require sending them to a youth center with a highly qualified staff with support and guidance from city and state colleges and universities to assist in establishing the curriculum and in counseling the faculty, staff and youth.

The youth center should be under the direction and supervision of a strong and respected organization such as the Maryland State Police, with assistance as needed from the Maryland National Guard.

It definitely should not be under the auspices of the juvenile justice system or any other security agencies that have not been successful in the operation of juvenile centers in the past.

Quinton D. Thompson


State board right to rehire Grasmick

The headline on Liz Bowie's Dec. 23 article read "Grasmick under fire but still on the go: State schools head continues work as her support fades."

I have always felt Ms. Bowie to be a fair and even-handed reporter, so I was drawn to the article. But I found in it no evidence of fading support.

As a former educator with Baltimore's schools, I disagreed with state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick's support of a proposed state takeover of city schools. But I have always applauded her dedication and commitment to the children in Maryland, as well as her challenge to their parents to make sure each child gets the best education possible.

I say kudos to the Maryland State Board of Education for reappointing Ms. Grasmick to another term as superintendent.

The board refused to cower and give in to the bullies in our state legislature who decided that she should not be reappointed because of what appears to be personal animosity.

I believe the state's public school children would be much better served if Gov. Martin O'Malley would decide to work with our superintendent of education rather than stripping her office of its long-established independence to get rid of her.

Sue Cutter


The writer is a former area academic officer for Baltimore's public schools.

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