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The Maryland Board of Public Works: A History by Alan M. Wilner
Volume 216, Preface 10   View pdf image (33K)
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x Preface

improvements and indeed had, for a short time, been rendered insolvent because of
them. This board was supposed to manage the state's huge investments in the various
railroad and canal companies in order to make them as profitable as possible to the
constituents they served, as well as to the taxpayers. As will be seen, its success in
this regard was mixed.

The current board's principal function, as envisioned by the two constitutional
conventions that created and continued it, was to dispose of those investments as soon
as possible—within a year or two. Most of the debate in the 1864 and 1867 conventions
dealing with the board centered on how and when the state could divest itself of those
investments. Little regard or comment was given to the ancillary power to "hear and
determine such matters as affect the Public Works of the State, and as the General
Assembly may confer upon them the power to decide."

That catchall authority has, of course, been the wellspring of nearly all that the
board now does. The state's investments in canal and railroad companies have pretty
much been liquidated—although it took nearly fifty years to do it; and the board has
not had to concern itself with electing directors of those companies or approving their
toll rates for sixty or seventy years. By authority of the legislature, however, it has
become a silent (and sometimes not so silent) partner in the administration of nearly
every phase of the state government. Through its broad powers over state fiscal affairs
and the management of state property, it reaches into nearly every state program—
education, public safety, health, natural and human resources, transportation. It is,
in effect, the capstone of the three state "control" agencies—the departments of Budget
and Fiscal Planning, State Planning, and General Services. If any of this was foreseen
by the board's creators, the prophecy was not reduced to writing.

Among the difficulties in chronicling this long and complex history is drawing a
proper balance between a macro- and microanalysis. One cannot escape analyzing
and recording some of the details of the board's work, for to ignore the specifics al-
together in favor of generalities would make the story much too shallow. On the other
hand, to record and discuss in any significant detail all that has come before the board
would not only make the saga unnecessarily long and hopelessly boring but would
obscure some more important long-term trends and developments. I have tried to
strike a balance in favor of greater detail in the early years of the board's development,
when the relative importance of individual transactions was somewhat greater, and
more generality in the later years, when the categories of matters coming before the
board have been, from the perspective of history, more important than individual

In preparing this history, I am deeply indebted to C. Elizabeth Buckler-Veronis,
a friend and former colleague who did much of the initial research into the early
antecedents of the board, to the archivists, researchers, and editors at the Hall of
Records and the staff of the board itself, who were at all times cheerful and helpful,
and to my secretary, Patricia Cater, who displayed infinite patience in typing and
retyping (several times) the manuscript.


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The Maryland Board of Public Works: A History by Alan M. Wilner
Volume 216, Preface 10   View pdf image (33K)
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