By Paul Reines and Susan Fernandez
ANNAPOLIS – Southern Maryland legislators responded warmly to Gov. Parris Glendening’s State of the State address this week, but many frowned on proposals to regulate gun ownership and fund NFL stadium construction.
Republicans and Democrats alike expressed enthusiasm for Glendening’s austere $14.7 billion budget for fiscal year 1997, which begins July 1. Glendening proposed cutting spending in all but three areas: education, crime and business development.
Under Glendening’s proposals, overall state spending would increase 0.15 percent, the lowest one-year increase since 1945, the governor said.
“This is a truly tight budget, but one in which we have carefully managed our limited resources and directed them to the programs where they will do the most good for all Marylanders,” Glendening said in his speech, delivered Wednesday noon at the Statehouse.
Lawmakers said the governor’s desire to rein in the budget was appropriate and well-expressed.
“I’m glad it’s as tight as it is,” said Del. Van Mitchell, D-Charles.
“His speech was excellent,” said Del. Samuel C. “Buddy” Linton, D-Charles, a state legislator intermittently since the 1950s. “It was one of the best I’ve heard in my years here.”
Despite opposition on some specifics, Republicans largely supported the governor’s priorities, especially with the state facing federal cutbacks. Lost revenue could reach $116 million next year and over seven years hit $1.6 billion for Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income Marylanders.
Glendening’s proposals promised to have varying short-term impacts on St. Mary’s, Charles and Calvert counties.
The counties could benefit from some of the statewide 3 percent spending increase for colleges and universities, several Southern Maryland legislators said. Construction and renovation of public schools, targeted for $133 million statewide, could help Southern Maryland cope with its burgeoning population, they said.
Proposals to ease regulation on businesses and promote reuse of abandoned plants were well-received by members of both parties. In addition, legislators expressed initial support for increasing business incentives, including deductions for businesses to hire the disabled and the repeal of several business taxes.
On crime, Glendening garnered support for tougher sentencing and increased community policing, but raised the delegation’s ire with several gun control proposals.
Individuals would be allowed only one monthly handgun purchase and would be required to undergo licensing and training under Glendening’s legislation.
“I have great reservations about his gun-control initiatives,” said Sen. Roy Dyson, D-St. Mary’s.
Sen. Thomas Middleton, D-Charles, labeled the plans “more regulations that will put more requirements on law-abiding citizens” and not reduce crime significantly.
In urging lawmakers to back two controversial NFL stadium deals — one to lure the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore, the other for the Washington Redskins in Prince George’s County — Glendening touted job creation benefits.
But many Southern Maryland lawmakers disapproved of making the Baltimore stadium a spending priority in tight fiscal times. Some also said specific terms of the deal with Browns owner Art Modell were too generous.
“There were way too many concessions given to this guy,” said Del. Thomas E. “Tim” Hutchins, R-Charles.
Mitchell cautioned that reneging on the deal would not be wise given the potential for lawsuits, but added, “I don’t think we should be in the business of building stadiums.”
Linton said that misinformation has swayed many against the stadium deal. Contrary to popular belief, lottery revenues, and not state taxes, will pay for the stadium’s construction, he said.
While supporting Glendening’s chosen areas of emphasis, several legislators said they opposed the governor’s recommendation to delay a personal income tax cut.
“Is there ever going to be a time that’s right?” asked Hutchins, who said he supports tax cuts targeted for low- and moderate-income households. “At the rate we’re going we’re just pushing it off [indefinitely].”
Delegation members expressed few reservations regarding Glendening’s plans to cut 1,030 positions from the 83,710- employee state work force. Severance packages for government employees leaving just before retirement age might be advisable, Hutchins said. -30-