By Claire Haws and Sue Fernandez
ANNAPOLIS – Montgomery County Republicans and Democrats alike praised Gov. Parris N. Glendening Wednesday for including $133 million for school construction in the budget he unveiled with his State of the State address.
The money, which the governor said was the most in more than 20 years, comes at a time when most state programs are seeing spending cuts.
School construction is essential to Montgomery County because its population has exploded over the last decade, Sen. Jennie Forehand, a Democrat, said.
“We just can’t say no, we’ll put this off,” Forehand said.
Del. Dana Dembrow, also a Democrat, said he thinks the county will see about $30 million of the $133 million pot. Republican Sen. Jean Roesser said the county had requested $70 million.
Glendening’s budget keeps 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, Glendening said.
The governor’s caution is due in part to the state’s projected loss of $115.8 million in federal funds by way of cuts under consideration in Congress. The state may lose $1.6 billion over seven years in Medicaid funding alone, Glendening said.
Dembrow praised Glendening for coming up with a plan under such uncertain circumstances.
Roesser agreed. “The federal situation is like a shoe waiting to drop,” she said.
Spending will increase only in the policy areas Glendening has called priorities since taking office last year. At a news conference after his speech, he listed them in order: education, public safety and business development.
Overall education funding would increase 5.2 percent to $5 billion, including:
-A 3 percent increase for colleges and universities.
-$5.3 million to reward schools that improve over time.
-$500,000 for programs increasing flexibility to discipline students.
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.
Finally, to fight crime, Glendening proposes:
-Gun control legislation 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.
Roesser said she was also disappointed with Glendening’s decision to hold off on a promised personal income tax cut until the federal budget is more certain.
“The income tax cut would send a noticeable signal to the business community that we have a welcoming climate. It would stimulate job creation and economic development,” Roesser said.
But Sen. Ida G. Ruben, a Democrat, was in the governor’s camp. An income tax cut “would not be a wise move because he can’t cut when he doesn’t know how much more he’s going to have to cut.”
But Ruben and other area lawmakers parted company with Glendening on the two controversial stadium deals now before the Legislature: a $200 million publicly funded stadium to draw the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore, and a stadium for the Washington Redskins in Prince George’s County, for which the state would provide $73 million in improvement and transportation costs.
“We can’t use taxpayers’ money to fund a private stadium for a rich man. It’s wrong,” Ruben said, referring to Redskins’ owner Jack Kent Cooke.
Forehand and Dembrow both said they were not convinced the stadium projects were in the best interest of the state. The money could be better spent on other projects, such as education, they said.
But Glendening, in his speech, argued that both stadiums would provide excellent economic development opportunities and revitalize Maryland.
The stadiums are shaping up as a major legislative battle. “Anybody who says it’s a done deal is wrong,” said Sen. Patrick Hogan, a Republican. But at his news conference, the governor said he was confident legislators would pass both stadium deals. “We will have the votes,” he said. -30-