By Stephanie Barrett and Susan Fernandez
ANNAPOLIS – Eastern Shore delegates were concerned with Gov. Parris Glendening’s focus on gun control after hearing his State of the State address on Wednesday, but were generally pleased with his priorities.
“Overall, I felt positive about it,” Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Somerset, said of the speech. “I think keeping the budget low … I think that’s a step in the right direction.”
But Stoltzfus added, “I don’t think we need more stringent gun control.”
Glendening proposed a conservative operating budget, keeping most state agencies’ spending at or below last year’s levels. The $14.7 billion budget increases spending just 0.15 percent — the smallest increase since 1945, the governor said.
The governor’s caution is due in part to the state’s projected loss of $115.8 million in federal funds through cuts now being considered in Congress.
Glendening proposed spending increases in the policy areas that he made priorities when he took office last year. In a news conference after his speech he listed them in order: education, public safety and business development.
“I think the governor gave an excellent speech and he developed an excellent budget,” Del. David Rudolph, D-Cecil, said, expressing approval of Glendening’s priorities.
To fight crime, Glendening proposes:
-Capping handgun purchases at one per month, monitoring second-hand gun sales and licensing and training handgun owners.
-Setting up a commission to toughen sentencing policies.
“His political message to the Eastern Shore is that he is going to take our guns away,” said Sen. Richard Colburn, R- Dorchester.
In his speech, the governor mentioned “a shopping mall that turn[ed] into a shooting gallery in Salisbury,” referring to an incident Christmas Eve that left one dead and two injured. But Colburn said Glendening did not reveal that the gunman was a Virginia man.
(While the man charged with wielding the gun was from Norfolk, a Salisbury man has been charged as an accomplice. Both face first-degree murder charges.)
Del. Norman H. Conway, D-Wicomico, said, “I think the primary focus should not be on gun control, but on people who utilize guns to commit crimes.”
Conway added that he has no problem with background checks and believed responsible gun owners would agree with him.
Overall, Conway said he was pleased with the governor’s three major priorities.
Funds for education would increase 5.2 percent to $5 billion, a full third of the total state operating budget.
Del. Kenneth D. Schisler, R-Talbot, applauded the governor for addressing teachers’ needs to stop disruptive students.
Glendening said, “We will no longer allow one student to keep the entire class from learning….And principals and teachers will have legal immunity when they intervene to stop students’ violent behavior.”
However, Schisler said the governor failed to persuade him that Maryland needs to build two new NFL stadiums.
“What I expected from the Governor’s speech was a little more detailed case of the stadium [deals],” he said. Instead, Schisler complained, he heard the same “press snippets” the governor has been saying all along.
Nor did Glendening impress Del. Adelaide C. Eckardt, R- Dorchester. “I’m still not convinced,” she said.
Glendening wants to spend $200 million on a Camden Yards stadium to draw the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore and $73 million in public improvements for the Washington Redskins proposed stadium in Prince George’s County.
Other business development proposals include:
-$10 million in tax credits and repeal of some business taxes.
-Increasing the Sunny Day Fund, which helps bring businesses to Maryland, from $20 million to $30 million.
The governor said he would hold off a promised personal income tax cut until federal budget is more certain, provoking a strong response from some shore representatives.
“We are disappointed there wasn’t a commitment to the income tax reduction, because that’s where I believe I heard the loudest from my constituents,” Eckardt said. -30-