By Taylor Lincoln and Patrice Pascual
ANNAPOLIS – If there was one shortcoming for Prince George’s County lawmakers in Gov. Parris Glendening’s State of the State address, it was that they felt his spending proposals didn’t go far enough.
While they expressed general satisfaction with his priorities, some county delegates lamented the absence of certain initiatives.
Glendening’s education agenda, which includes $222 million for new school construction and a $181 million increase in school operating expenses, won hearty praise from the delegation.
“I think the governor has his priorities straight,” said Del. Joan Pitkin, D-Prince George’s. “I think he is a true advocate for education.”
Del. Michael Crumlin, D-Prince George’s, celebrated Glendening’s proposal to make scholarships available to students who pursue degrees in technical areas.
“That’s something I wasn’t anticipating and consider a strong positive,” said Crumlin, who works at a Landover-based telecommunications firm where 40-50 engineering positions are open because a lack of skilled workers.
“We will probably have to go out of state to fill those jobs,” he said.
Delegates also endorsed Glendening’s $68 million, five-year plan to enhance services for the estimated 5,300 people on the state’s waiting list for disability services.
“The developmentally disabled waiting list has been there for at least 20 years,” Pitkin said.
But she noted that in prosperous times such as these, when the state is anticipating a $283 million surplus, can be as difficult for political leaders as when the budget is tight.
“When there’s a substantial surplus, it’s almost as difficult as when there isn’t any extra money because every needy interest come out of the woodwork,” she said.
Del. Nathaniel Exum, a Democrat who chairs the county’s delegation, said Glendening should have set aside money to provide child care for ex-welfare recipients enrolled in job training programs.
“The governor mentioned putting money in the budget for people with disabilities, but he didn’t do anything about the people who’ve been cast off from welfare,” he said.
Likewise, Del. Brenda Hughes, D-Prince George’s, was disappointed that the governor did not increase funding in his proposed budget for job training for people with low paying jobs, although he did say “We must expand our job training programs.”
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 the income-tax cut enacted 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.
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 legislators’ “warm” response.
The speech, peppered with historic references to Maryland as a place of “liberty and opportunity,” was interrupted by applause 20 times.
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 — 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 underfunded and vowed to boost spending on them.
The governor shared the credit with legislators who enacted “historic” cuts in welfare in 1996. Since then, he said, the welfare caseload has dropped by nearly 90,000 people, “a 40 percent reduction in just two years.”
He used a prop to underscore his plan for 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 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.
Hughes said she would reserve judgement on the speech until she closely examined the governor’s proposed budget, which was also released Wednesday.
“Sometimes you rob Peter to pay Paul,” she said. “I will need to look at the other special needs programs to see if there were any cuts to pay for the new initiatives.”