ANNAPOLIS – Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. revealed Tuesday that his secretive government restructuring commission’s true aims include increasing his authority by putting sub-cabinet levels of government under his thumb.
“They all work for me,” Ehrlich said in a recent interview with Capital News Service. “So, it’s a pretty good idea to consolidate what they do.”
Ehrlich and the commission’s chairman, former Gov. Marvin Mandel, have offered shifting justifications for the commission since its formation in August, suggesting goals ranging from saving money to improving service.
But the commission’s objectives of efficiency, cost cutting and consolidating power aren’t mutually exclusive, Ehrlich said.
“If we can derive efficiencies, clearly that’s the No. 1 goal,” Ehrlich said. “If there are cost savings associated with those new efficiencies, so much the better.”
And consolidating his executive power “of course” fits into that equation, he said.
The state’s “economic climate” prompted the creation of the Commission on the Structure and Efficiency of State Government and its search for “wasteful practices and duplication of services,” according to Ehrlich’s executive order.
But that rationale seems to have changed.
“It would have occurred regardless of budget situations,” Ehrlich said Tuesday, admitting, “It’s not going to be a large volume of savings.”
Maryland faces at least an $800 million budget deficit in the next fiscal year.
Commission members have examined a laundry list of government groups, including the Maryland Stadium Authority, the State Lottery Agency, the state public defender’s office, police departments and myriad environmental organizations.
The group’s only public hearing will be Oct. 23, but its subcommittees have already solicited testimony from an assortment of current and former government officials. Its three meetings to date have been held in near-secrecy.
“Gov. Mandel called me a year out from the election,” Ehrlich recalled. “He said, ‘Look, I think you’re going to win the race, and I want to help you restructure sub-cabinet government in the state of Maryland.'”
Mandel told Ehrlich he would have good control over the Cabinet agencies, Ehrlich said, but “this whole other level of government had grown up over the years” that was harder to supervise.
Mandel claims credit for Maryland’s last government overhaul. He condensed close to 300 independent agencies into a Cabinet form of government during his administration in the 1970s.
Mandel could not be reached Friday for comment.
Ehrlich has kept his distance from the commission, preferring to let it work outside his direct influence.
“I have purposely not attended the commission meetings,” Ehrlich said. “It’s nothing that I wanted to stick my nose in prematurely. . . . They needed to take a detached analysis and view of how our government is operating.”
Ehrlich will join the commission to receive a preliminary report in mid-November. The final report is due in December.