By Marla Shepard and Sheila Hotchkin
ANNAPOLIS – Although legislators from the Washington, D.C. suburbs support the themes of the governor’s State of the State address, many doubt that he has built a realistic budget plan.
And while the criticism is more strident from Republicans, it isn’t limited to the opposition party.
“While the governor has focused on the needs of the people of Maryland, his lack of fiscal responsibility – as demonstrated by his dismal fiscal legacy in Prince George’s County – undermines his credibility to accomplish the goals which he laid out today,” said Sen. Jeanne Roesser, R-Montgomery.
Sen. John S. Morgan, R-Prince George’s, agreed with Roesser’s comments, attacking the governor’s record as the former county executive of Prince George’s County.
“He promised a great surplus to Prince George’s County, which proved to be a huge deficit,” Morgan said.
Glendening had supporters in the General Assembly, but most offered only qualified praise.
“He’s done an outstanding job in trying to deliver services, but there are some needs that are not addressed,” said Sen. Ida G. Ruben, D-Montgomery. She mentioned drug treatment and rehabilitation specifically.
Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, D-Montgomery, said Glendening is “a strong governor but he gets a bad rap…He’s really got a handle on state government.”
Even so, Forehand expressed dismay over one item on the governor’s agenda: “I’m not pleased with the Baltimore City school settlement.”
Details of Glendening’s much-publicized proposal to cut income taxes by 10 percent were notably absent from the 40-minute address, mentioned only briefly early in the speech.
“He gave little, if any reference to income tax,” said Sen. Christopher J. McCabe, R-Montgomery. “For the governor to have spent the better half of two weeks with his lieutenants promoting the tax reduction last week and to only mention it twice today – does this mean anything?”
Morgan said that although he agrees with a tax cut, Glendening’s numbers don’t add up. “I’ve supported tax cuts in the past two years, but I’ve supported the budgets to go with it,” he said. “Frankly, it’s nothing but sneaky tactics to get re-elected.”
While Glendening’s proposed tax cut faded into the background, education played prominently in the speech.
“It is our job to make sure every child from our most challenged to our most gifted gets a good education in the state,” Glendening said.
The governor added that he wants to make certain all students have equal opportunity no matter where they live, and he said the state’s schools are not on equal footing.
Some legislators saw this comment as a veiled reference to the $254 million settlement of a school-aid dispute between the state and Baltimore City.
“I do not support sending $250 billion to Baltimore,” Roesser said. “They need to look at their funding problem first because that [increased funding] is putting the horse before the wheel.”
But Prince George’s County Executive Wayne Curry, who attended the speech, said he was delighted that the governor focused so strongly on education.
Glendening also took a firm stance against gambling, saying he would not risk the futures of Maryland’s children on the spin of a roulette wheel.
“Let me make this very clear,” Glendening said. “No casinos, no slots, no exceptions.”
These remarks also received a mixed reaction from regional lawmakers.
Morgan explained that about half of the fire and emergency vehicles in his county rely on money from charitable casinos.
Although Morgan agrees with Glendening about not bringing other forms of gambling to the state, “I vehemently disagree with him on closing the charitable casinos,” he said.
Yet another initiative getting mixed reviews was Glendening’s “Smart Growth” plan.
The governor hopes to contain urban sprawl by giving state funding only to communities developing in state-approved areas near already existing towns.
“I’m not prepared to accept that [the governor] knows more about where people should live than the locals,” McCabe said. “He wants to use state money as leverage to dictate county growth.”
But Del. Joan B. Pitkin, D-Prince George’s, strongly supported the plan. She hopes that revitalizing established communities instead of spreading to new ones will be a blessing to the inner-Beltway communities in her county.
Pitkin also wants to protect the farm communities, wetlands and forests threatened by development. “If we’re going to pave the bay, we’re not going to have that thing that makes us singularly unique,” she said.
All of Glendening’s initiatives are a part of his $15.5 billion budget, introduced for the first time at the Wednesday address. The budget, if approved, will increase government spending by 2.9 percent. -30-