By Scott Albright and Patrice Pascual
ANNAPOLIS – Montgomery County Democrats found their expected piece of the state budget pie sugary sweet Wednesday but Republicans, in large part, found it tart with dubious election- year promises.
“It was a perfect speech,” said Del. Kumar Barve, D- Montgomery, of Gov. Parris Glendening’s State of the State address.
“It really put the priorities where they belong,” he said, in the form of education spending, economic development, and funding for the developmentally disabled.
But Del. Matthew Mossburg, R-Montgomery, was “underwhelmed.”
“It was a great political re-election speech,” Mossburg said. “If there’s any question remaining on anybody’s mind — Glendening’s a liberal. He’s got a hole burning in his pocket and he’s going to spend, spend, spend.”
Sen. Christopher McCabe, R-Howard, was more conciliatory, calling Glendening’s address “strong” and noting that there is general support for the governor’s education spending proposals.
“The concern that I have is we’ve learned historically that more money doesn’t necessarily produce better results in either education or any other area,” McCabe said.
And McCabe, whose district includes part of Montgomery County, also echoed Mossburg’s cynicism.
“Being an election year, any governor with $280 million dollars of a surplus is able to be very generous and very creative,” he said.
Sen. Ida Ruben, D-Montgomery, was “very, very pleased” with the governor’s promise of an extra $10 million in education funding for the county. She said she expects Glendening to announce a similarly high figure for school construction, near the county’s request of $60 million.
“We hope it’s up there somewhere,” Ruben said.
Ruben and Del. Adrienne Mandel, D-Montgomery, praised the extra $117.9 million Glendening set aside for the developmentally disabled who have languished on state waiting lists for special care.
Mandel said Montgomery County has more than 800 people on the list. She “was absolutely thrilled” by the governor’s pledge to bring the waiting list “down to a great, big zero.”
County Executive Douglas Duncan, a Democrat, who watched the address from the House gallery, said the new money will reinvigorate a system that now ignores disabled people once they reach adulthood.
“We do very well through the school years, and then once they reach 21, the county system stops, the state takes over, and people just sit there. There are no programs for them,” Duncan said.
In his 37-minute speech, Glendening cited Maryland’s $283 million budget surplus and proposed that $100 million of it be set aside to help pay for the income-tax reduction that was passed last year.
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.
His address, which was peppered with historic references to Maryland as a place of “liberty and opportunity,” was interrupted 20 times by applause.
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.
His plan also calls for state programs to educate suburban homeowners on responsible use of fertilizers and it earmarks $1.6 million for research into the still-mysterious microbe.
He insisted he was not blaming farmers for the problem but, in an interview after the speech, the governor stressed that “this will not be the generation that loses the Chesapeake Bay.”
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 — and made a point — 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 across the state are similarly underfunded and vowed to boost spending.
He shared credit for a healthy economy, noting that 50,000 jobs were created in the state in 1997. And he praised legislators for “historic” cuts in welfare in 1996. Since then, the governor said, the welfare caseload has dropped by nearly 90,000 people, “a 40 percent reduction in just two years.”
He underscored his plan to fund regular health care for 60,000 of Maryland’s uninsured children by holding up what looked to be a used bottle of pink antibiotic, familiar to most parents. 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, a longtime legislator who died last year.