ANNAPOLIS – Eastern Shore lawmakers said the governor’s initiatives outlined in his State of the State speech Wednesday were like candy: It tastes sweet going down, but you must pay for it later.
Glendening mentioned six initiatives at the core of his legislative agenda — a 10 percent income tax cut, giving health care to uninsured children, doubling the cigarette tax, putting more state troopers on the roads, helping parents send their kids to college and curbing suburban sprawl.
“That means making sure Maryland is a safe and healthy place, an economically secure and rewarding place, a state that conserves natural resources and neighborhoods and a state the educates and creates opportunities,” Glendening said.
Those priorities may be hard to attack, but legislators said the specific programs that the governor has proposed may be too expensive.
“It sounds wonderful, but practically there are big problems. The snapshots and the sound bites of those programs look good, but I’m anxious to see the details in the plan,” said Del. Adelaide C. Eckardt, R-Dorchester.
“I heard a real commitment to help business and farmers and agriculture. But doubling the cigarette tax won’t help them,” she said.
Eckardt, who is a psychiatric nurse, liked the governor’s commitment to spend $5.6 million on health care for uninsured pregnant women and children up to age three, although she questioned what would happen to children after they were no longer eligible.
After the speech Del. Bennett Bozman, D-Worcester, walked out of the room with a bound copy of the governor’s $15.5 billion budget under his arm, which Glendening presented to legislators for the first time.
“I think it’s an ambitious program and I assume it’s in this book we just got how we’re going to pay for it,” Bozman said.
Glendening did mention that the initiatives he outlined in the speech represent a tiny fraction of the budget — about one- third of one percent.
The governor also took a very strong stand against gambling, saying that only an irresponsible government would try to pay for its programs by the spin of a roulette wheel.
Del. Don B. Hughes, R-Wicomico, disagreed. While he hesitated to say he supported expanding gambling, he would support forming a commission to study it.
“I don’t know how to read what’s going to happen to gambling, but it’s not dead like he said it is,” Hughes said.
Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Somerset, found “pluses and minuses” in the governor’s agenda. He supported the governor’s anti-gambling stance, stronger funding of state police and protecting agricultural land.
But the governor’s “Smart Growth” plan, designed to curb suburban sprawl, remains a touchy issue on the Eastern Shore. The program would revitalize urban neighborhoods and restrict growth in agricultural areas.
“In rural areas, you’re certainly going to have a difficult time telling people where they can and can’t live. It’s like an American with an automobile. They don’t like being told not to drive,” said Del. Norman H. Conway, D-Wicomico, chair of the Eastern Shore delegation.
Growth into far-flung areas on the shore has also created a need to build more schools, and Conway liked what he heard in Glendening’s speech. The governor pledged $132 million for public school construction and made access to education one of his key themes.
The governor’s plan to give state troopers a 10 percent raise and hire 225 new officers also met with approval from Eastern Shore lawmakers.
Conway said that after several armed robberies on U.S. Route 13, more resources are needed to police that corridor.
He also said some private subdivisions or security companies pay better wages than the state trooper job. “We train them and they gain them, and I think we have to reverse that trend,” Conway said.
Del. Kenneth Schisler, R-Talbot, took the long view of the governor’s programs. Although Maryland law requires that the governor submit a balanced budget for the upcoming year, Schisler was concerned about how much these programs would cost 10 and 15 years down the road.
“Now that he’s made the speech, he has to show us how his numbers add up,” he said.