By Jennifer Castelli and Joetta Sack
ANNAPOLIS – Washington-area lawmakers praised Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s assurance in his first State of the State address that he will concentrate on bringing businesses to Maryland.
“I have talked about Gov. George Allen and his aggressive attempts to move Maryland businesses to Virginia,” Glendening said Thursday. “I am pointing out that is exactly what a governor should do.”
Glendening touched on long-range plans for economic development, crime, education and the environment. These issues seemed to be on the legislature’s agenda as well, as evidenced by several interruptions of applause.
Most lawmakers from the Washington suburbs were optimistic about the future of their communities.
“By and large his concerns reflect our concerns,” said Sen. Ida G. Ruben, D-Montgomery.
Sen. Gloria Lawlah, D-Prince George’s, agreed. “We need to provide jobs for our citizens,” Lawlah said, noting that less than half the county’s high school students go on to college.
Glendening proposed creating a Maryland Economic Development Commission within a new Department of Business and Economic Development. Made up of private citizens, the commission will try to attract specific businesses to regions of Maryland.
Meanwhile, the Department of Business and Economic Development will replace part of the current Department of Employment and Economic Development, forming “a leaner, more focused agency,” Glendening said.
Del. Mark Shriver, D-Montgomery, said the new agencies will bring “good high-paying, clean jobs” to the I-270 Corridor area in Montgomery County.
Glendening’s business initiatives will also help revitalize older neighborhoods across the state, a process already under way in Prince George’s County, lawmakers said.
In another effort to streamline government, Glendening wants to combine the Department of the Environment and Department of Natural Resources.
The governor also promised to push for environmental regulations more stringent than those of the federal government. “In Maryland, our greatest natural resource is the Chesapeake Bay and we will take every action — strong actions — to protect it,” Glendening said, bringing cheers from the floor of the House.
Del. Gilbert Genn, D-Montgomery, supported the governor’s promise. “I thought he struck a balance between the needed economic initiatives and concern for the environment,” Genn said.
In addition, the governor proposed a tax break for buying electric and alternative fuel vehicles.
“Tax relief is going to be a key in getting the economy back,” Sen. Leo E. Green, D-Prince George’s, said approvingly.
Glendening stressed his commitment to education, citing a proposed $96 million increase in general education funding plus $40 million in school construction funds.
Del. Nathaniel Exum, D-Prince George’s, was glad that the governor is making education a priority. “Hopefully, we will get a large share of those funds,” he said.
But Del. Rushern L. Baker III, D-Prince George’s, said with so many schools in need of repair, he hopes the money will be enough. “We don’t want our children to get used to going to dilapidated schools,” he said.
Del. Patricia Faulkner, R-Montgomery, said she thought crime had been ignored by previous legislatures. She was pleased Glendening was paying attention to the issue, she said, adding, “We have a problem and we have to work on solving it.”
Baker, however, was disappointed at Glendening’s pronouncement that he would enforce the death penalty.
At the beginning of his speech, Glendening promised to support raising the speed limit to 65 miles per hour on rural sections of interstate highways.
This pleased Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, D-Montgomery, who has introduced legislation to do just that. “I’m so excited for our region,” she said, referring to the Washington suburbs.
Baker was also excited to have a governor familiar with issues of the Washington suburbs. Under the past administration, Baker said Prince George’s County was “treated like the stepchild of Maryland.”
Now, with so many new faces and ideas in the legislature, Baker said he is optimistic. “I see a lot of Prince George’s and Montgomery coming together for the region,” he said. -30-