ANNAPOLIS – Eastern Shore lawmakers expressed concerns Friday about Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s legislative agenda, and they had a very willing listener — House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany.
Taylor has expressed interest in running for governor in the next election. He lent an eager ear at the first Eastern Shore delegation meeting to members who criticized several programs Glendening has put at the top of his wishlist this year.
Several lawmakers were wary of the governor’s “smart growth” proposal, which is designed to curb suburban sprawl and preserve wildlands by channeling growth to already developed areas.
“I share deep concerns about that,” the speaker said. “I’m anxious to see the detail on the governor’s growth program because the devil will be in the details.”
He drew a parallel between the Eastern Shore and his own Western Maryland region, which has very little flat land where new industry can build. He worried that the smart growth plan could make it even harder for businesses to move to rural areas.
“What is good for one part of the state, in this case, may not be good for another part of the state,” Taylor said.
Del. Wheeler R. Baker, D-Queen Anne’s, said mayors of several cities, which would absorb new growth under the plan, have asked him for more state money to build roads, schools and water systems.
Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Somerset, said he feared the smart growth program would wield a stick dictating where people could build rather hold out carrots encouraging people to locate in developed areas.
He argued that many urban problems like crime and failing school systems, which have driven residents deeper into the suburbs, have not been satisfactorily solved. Until they are, he said, it is unreasonable to direct growth to those areas.
“It’s monumental. It’s never been done before — to force people to live where they don’t want to live or might not naturally tend to live,” Stoltzfus said.
Sen. Richard F. Colburn, R-Dorchester, told Taylor that because so much Eastern Shore land is tied up in wetlands protection and forest conservation programs, their counties cannot afford more restrictions on growth.
Another program that drew fire was the governor’s plan to offer free state college tuition for students who make As and Bs. Del. Mary Roe Walkup, R-Kent, said she thought the plan could get incredibly expensive, and Taylor agreed.
“It appears to be a major spending program down the road. I can envision a massive price tag on free tuition,” Taylor said.
Taylor also said the program would pressure teachers to give students As and Bs and might discriminate against students who could not make top grades.
But Taylor did not escape criticism of his own legislative agenda. He wants to apply the state sales tax to purchase of child care, parking, legal, automotive and repair services, which are currently exempt.
Del. Don B. Hughes, R-Wicomico, asked the speaker to consider that many Eastern Shore businesses compete with those in Delaware, which does not have a state sales tax.
“Our counties and our citizens have already jumped off the floor talking about broadening the sales tax base,” he said.
Taylor said he understood the dilemma they faced with Delaware, but said that the Legislature would have to work hard to consider each region’s special needs. “It comes down to whose ox is going to be gored,” he said. -30-