ANNAPOLIS – Calling Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s State of the State address predictable and vague, Western Maryland legislators Wednesday said it painted a pretty picture, but that it was unrealistic to expect a masterpiece by the end of the session.
Glendening said in his 40-minute speech that he wanted to make Maryland “the best place to work, to raise a child and to build a family.”
But with these ambitions resting on a tax-cut budget, lawmakers sounded doubtful.
“Overall he has the right idea,” said Del. Betty Workman, D- Allegany. But she added that she is “anxious to see the rest of the budget.”
Glendening focused on education, safer communities and health care and their relationship to his $15.5 billion operating budget.
“Anything he mentioned in essence affects the whole state in some degree,” said Del. George Edwards, R-Garrett. Like Workman Edwards wants “to see details” of the budget and how Glendening’s programs figure in.
These programs include:
* A 10 percent personal income tax cut that would lower the top rate from 5 percent to 4.5 percent over the next three years.
* Doubling the cigarette tax, 72 cents per pack.
* A promise of free college tuition for middle-class students with a “B” average or better in high school.
* A “Thrive for Three” program providing family health care for uninsured mothers with children under age three.
* Adding 225 state troopers, and providing all state police with a 10 percent pay increase.
* A “Smart Growth” plan targeting state funds to counties that direct development into areas already equipped with roads, sewers and schools.
Immediately after the address, Workman, still trying to digest the information, said a lot of people in Allegany County would profit from scholarships offered to the middle class and that the health care program “is a start.”
Edwards questioned whether the tuition assistance includes community college. He also will look carefully at Smart Growth, saying he hoped his county, the youngest in the state, would not be “penalized because we don’t have a lot of vacant downtowns.”
Interviewed on the eve of the speech, Sen. Larry Haines, R- Carroll, questioned where Glendening will find revenue to support new programs.
“It remains to be seen how he will pay for everything,” Haines said.
Glendening said he expects substantial revenue from the cigarette tax — $15 million in fiscal year 1997 and another $99 million projected for fiscal year 1998.
The governor expects to use this money to offset present and future revenue lost from the proposed personal income tax cut.
But Edwards said the cigarette tax increase would substantially hurt his jurisdiction, since Pennsylvania and West Virginia are only a few miles away. The other states already have a lower tax on tobacco products and a new tax would drive even more consumers away.
With Glendening midway through his four-year term, both his friends and foes say the 1998 election will play a strong role in everything the governor says and does.
“Unless they are ready to retire, they are always looking over their shoulders,” said Haines.
Sen. John Hafer, R-Allegany, gave Glendening bragging rights. “The economy is as good as its been,” he said, echoing figures the governor used in his speech: 2.7 million jobs in this state, unemployment at a 6-year low and the welfare caseload down 22 percent in two years. On top of all that, Hafer said, Western Marylanders “will be glad to get any tax break, if its real.” -30-