By Barry Rascovar
Nov. 27, 2017 — We live in a Trumpian world of propagandizing and denial of reality, with the accusers distorting the truth and calling it “fake news.”
Unfortunately, some of this manipulation is taking place in the Maryland State House. Far too often, spokesmen for Gov. Larry Hogan engage in blame-pointing rather than fess up to the cold, hard truth.
Case in point: The adamant denial that Maryland state government is suffering from huge personnel vacancies in some of its key agencies.
“Nonsense,” said the governor’s spokesman. There’s no shortage of state workers, he asserted, as he questioned the validity of the Department of Legislative Services report.
Denying the Obvious
Yet there is a glaring problem — according to data from Hogan’s own government agencies, a judge and state prison officials.
Instead of admitting the obvious and explaining what’s being done to find creative solutions, Hogan’s office sought to denigrate a non-partisan research office with a sterling tradition of “calling it like it is.”
The “fake news” is coming from Hogan’s suite, not Legislative Services.
The argument is over the size of state government in Maryland.
Hogan, a believer in conservative budgeting, has consistently clamped a lid on state spending, including hiring. Part of this effort is grounded in the old Republican saw that government bureaucracies are always “bloated,” overflowing with people filling make-work jobs.
That has led to a drive to hold down new hiring, even in cases where there is a dire need for more personnel.
Contempt of Court
Take the Maryland Department of Health, where top brass nearly went to jail after they repeatedly they failed to hire enough psychiatric nurses and physicians to handle all of the patients being sent to state hospitals for court-ordered mental-health treatment.
This has been a longstanding problem that started well before Hogan. His aides could have pointed that out.
Instead, the governor’s minions circled the wagons and refused to cooperate with the judge — until the state health secretary was held in contempt of court.
Or take the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which continues having a devil of a time finding qualified prison guards with clean records. Over 1,700 vacant positions exist in the department — a whopping vacancy rate of 9 percent.
Yes, there are extenuating circumstances but there’s a critical shortage of guards in state prisons. There was no effort by the governor’s office to explain how the administration is working to proactively meet this serious challenge.
Instead, the governor’s spokesman put the onus on the prior Democratic administration.
That line of attack ignores the fact that Hogan has been in office nearly three years — more than enough time to craft an effective plan to remedy this dangerous worker shortage.
Too Many Unfilled Jobs
DLS reported to a legislative committee that in a number of key agencies — corrections, health, human services, juvenile services and the State Police — the vacancy rate is more than twice the norm — over 7 percent.
That should be viewed as unacceptable by leaders of the executive branch. Instead, Hogan seems fixated on budgetary hold-downs — and denying there is a problem.
The English would describe his view as “penny wise and pound foolish.”
It makes sense to trim the size of government if it is done carefully. Problems begin when the needs of individual agencies are ignored for the sake of downsizing and budget cuts..
The Hogan administration may succeed in papering over most staffing shortages until after next year’s elections. But eventually lack of skilled job-holders could diminish state government’s ability to perform basic obligations. There’s a limit to downsizing in the public sector, a point Hogan’s team may have started to reach.