ANNAPOLIS – With a continued focus on crime, jobs, and education, Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s state of the State address Thursday appealed to Western Maryland’s conservative lawmakers.
“He’s saying and doing the right things,” said Del. Bruce Poole, D-Washington.
Now they will wait for results.
“He has talked the talk,” said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R- Washington. “We need to see if he’s going to walk the walk.”
In this, Glendening’s third speech in nine days since becoming governor, there were few surprises for lawmakers from the state’s panhandle, whose common educational, crime and job needs markedly increase bi-partisan cooperation.
“Largely, he’s going to be forming a consensus with the legislators,” Poole said. “He seems to be settling into the middle of the political spectrum.”
Poole did add that the governor will get “sniping from the far left and right.”
And one Republican, freshman Sen. Timothy R. Ferguson, R- Carroll, has repeatedly doubted Glendening’s ability to hold his politically moderate course for the long term.
“I think as the session goes on, the difference between the parties will continue to grow,” Ferguson said.
But even Ferguson, who has faulted Glendening’s move to end restrictions on Medicaid funding for abortions, could not find much in Thursday’s address to criticize, as the governor didn’t breach any controversial issues.
“He left us, the minority party, with nothing to tear him down about,” Ferguson said.
In large part, lawmakers are waiting on specifics, especially regarding Glendening’s announcement that he would streamline two major areas of government: economic development and environmental regulation.
The governor unveiled a new department, Business and Economic Development, that will take on some of the functions of the current Department of Employment and Economic Development.
“By having a single mission, bringing jobs to Maryland and retaining jobs that are here, the department … will be a leaner, more focused agency,” Glendening said.
The rest of DEED will be folded into a new Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
Though Western lawmakers said state enviromental regulations will be simplified by Glendening’s plan to merge the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of the Environment, there was concern over how the plan to streamline business developement will be implemented.
“I know what the governor said, but I am afraid it’s going to be a power struggle there,” Munson said. “I’m afraid business development will get lost in there.”
Poole said the consolidation of the labor department will give Glendening a chance to prove he’s a good administrator.
“It depends on who’s in charge and what their mission is” whether economic development gets undercut, Poole said.
Glendening also perked up Republican ears by announcing plans to reduce closing costs for home buyers and to set aside $7 million in grants for small businesses next year.
“If grants of millions of dollars were right for the big businesses of the [Baltimore] Inner Harbor, why would grants not be right for neighborhood businesses?” the governor asked.
Freshman Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, had ready praise. “The intent to reduce closing costs is wonderful,” he said.
In his speech, Glendening said Maryland’s closing costs were the highest in the country.
Hafer said grants to boost small business will help “combat idleness” among unemployed people throughout the state, which will have the effect of reducing crime.
In what several agreed was a welcome start to the speech, Glendening announced right off the bat a plan to raise speed limits on Western Maryland’s rural stretches of interstate highways from 55 to 65 mph.
“I loved that,” Munson said. “It was a good way to start his speech, it put us rural people in a good mood.”
Sen. John J. Hafer, R-Allegany said that, although he understands the concern that faster drivers are more likely to have accidents, the inconsistency between Maryland’s 55 mph speed limit and the 65 mph speed limits of neighboring states is a problem for highway drivers.
“The truth is, the speed limit is 55 mph and everybody’s doing 75 mph now,” he said.
All told, Western Maryland lawmakers are mostly happy with Glendening’s trilogy of speeches, which reflected the GOP’s newfound clout in the state.
“[The speech] is reflective of the fact that Glendening knows what happened in the last election,” said Sen. John W. Derr, R-Frederick. -30-