By Marquita Smith and Patrice Pascual
ANNAPOLIS – At least one Maryland Legislative Black Caucus member said he was still too upset by last week’s ouster of former Sen. Larry Young to focus on Wednesday’s State of the State address.
Other caucus members, however, gave Gov. Parris Glendening’s speech high ratings.
With an agenda that includes improving education, building and modernizing classrooms, and ensuring health care benefits for poor children and their mothers, “who wouldn’t be pleased?” asked Del. Carolyn J.B. Howard, D-Prince George’s County.
“This is the first time that I’ve felt this good about the State of the State address,” she said. “I support all of these issues.”
Howard, a former Prince George’s County school principal, was pleased by the governor’s commitment to school construction. Prince George’s County has many old schools that need repairs, and students can not learn in those “bird houses,” her description of the temporary facilities.
But several caucus members noted that many of the issues are the same as they were three years ago, when Glendening’s term started. They wondered if the governor would have time to carry out his promises.
“Many of those programs will take place in three or four years, and he may not be governor at that time,” said Del. Nathaniel Exum, D-Prince George’s County. “But it sounds good.”
Especially the governor’s promise to provide funds to reduce the waiting list for the more than 5,300 individuals with disabilities, who receive state services, Exum said.
“Many people have been waiting on those lists for years and they deserve some support,” he added.
While, the governor hit the mark with some issues, Exum and others said he missed others. For instance, Glendening mentioned that welfare rolls have dropped by almost 90,000 people, a 40 percent reduction. They said the numbers mask the real people involved.
“It sounds good, but … who are the people affected in the reduction?” Exum asked. “I would have liked to hear more about that.”
In his 37-minute speech, Glendening cited Maryland’s $283 million budget surplus and proposed that $100 million of it be used to pay for tax reductions enacted last year.
The governor was interrupted by applause 20 times during his talk, which was peppered with historic references to Maryland as a place of “liberty and opportunity.”
With a flush treasury and a re-election campaign ahead, Glendening said spending on children, jobs and controlling toxic pfiesteria would be at the top of his 1998 legislative agenda.
Republicans said the speech promised too much to too many. Del. Robert L. Flanagan, R-Howard, charged that “the governor is using the $283 million as a campaign fund. When he was Prince George’s County executive, he made promises that couldn’t be kept. …He’s setting up the next governor for the same thing.”
But supporters like Del. Clarence Davis, D-Baltimore, called it his “finest speech ever,” and cited the “warm” response.
Applause was noticeably absent as the governor talked about a sweeping proposals to fight the re-emergence of pfiesteria, a microbe that has been linked to fishkills and some human ailments.
His agenda calls for reducing fertilizer runoff from farms as a way to control pfiesteria, which he predicted would return “in all likelihood” this summer. Specifically, he called for all farms to have nutrient management plans by 2000 with “strong enforcement mechanisms” for non-compliance.
Glendening pledged the most dollars for public education, including $222 million in capital improvements to schools, and an additional $181 million for “additional teachers, textbooks, and to support science and arts programs.”
He also pledged an additional $64 million for higher education, the first installment on a promised $635 million for colleges over the next four years, and an extra $119 million for capital improvements on state campuses.
Glendening got a laugh by telling legislators about the “huge computer” on the cover of “Computers in Your Life,” a 1981 book in the University Park Elementary School library, where he volunteers. He said school libraries statewide are under-funded and pledged to increase funding.
The governor used a prop to underscore his plan to fund regular health care for 60,000 of Maryland’s uninsured children. Holding up what looked to be a used bottle of pink antibiotic, familiar to most any parent, he said such low-cost treatments under his plan would save the state costly payments for treatment of serious problems later. That line earned sustained applause.
Glendening’s most well-received proposal was a 50 percent increase in the fund for fire protection and rescue services, a tribute to the late Sen. Bill Amoss, D-Harford, who died last year.
But Del. Nathaniel T. Oaks, D-Baltimore, noting last week’s expulsion of Young on ethics charges, said things are moving too fast in the House of Delegates and in the Senate.
Oaks, who said the “atmosphere was still cloudy” from the Young incident, said he would like to see the General Assembly slow down on all issues, especially health care.
“The governor should explain how his health care proposal differs from the bills in the Senate and the House,” Oaks said. “I think we need to slow this train down.”