ANNAPOLIS Gov. Parris N. Glendening offered no illusions Thursday when he delivered his State of the State address and his 2000 budget: in both education was his top priority. But some lawmakers wondered if this emphasis may be detrimental to other programs.
“He doesn’t really have an economic package,” said Delegate James Ports Jr., R-Baltimore County. “He didn’t even address it (in his speech.)”
The governor’s proposed budget allocates 41 percent of the state’s general fund for education initiatives, including school construction and scholarships. A total of $250 million the largest allocation since fiscal year 1973 will go to construct new public schools and to renovate older schools.
Other construction projects at universities will be funded by a tobacco tax, including a first-time tax on cigars, Glendening said. “With these revenues, we can help the University of Maryland at Baltimore County get the science and technology building that they need now,” he said, “instead of in the year 2010.”
Some legislators disagreed with creating a new tax to support such programs.
Making the projects dependent on a tax that doesn’t yet have legislative approval is “almost like saying, ‘Well, I really didn’t want to fund it,'” said Ports. “It’s a poor way of funding higher education. If he’s going to fund the building at UMBC, then fund the building.”
Delegate Kevin Kelly, R-Allegany, also was concerned about the expense of the programs. “I like what he said about education, but I want to know how we can afford what he proposes,” Kelly said. “I cannot support tax-and-spend policies.”
Even a fellow Democrat was critical of the governor’s failure to address economic development issues.
Delegate Norman H. Conway, D-Wicomico, said he expected the governor to talk about new programs for job creation and business development, but he did not.
Ray Feldmann, the governor’s press secretary, said every new budget has a purpose, this year it just happens to be education. “Thats what this legislative package and budget is focusing on,” he said. “That’s not to say we’re not doing anything for economic development.”
After all, he said, the governor sees the issues as two sides of the same coin.
“It’s his opinion that education and economic development are inexorably linked,” Feldmann said. “If you pour your resources into education, what you’ll end up with is an educated workforce better prepared for jobs in the 21st century.”
While the governor mentioned that he would increase funding for worker training programs, his statement was a bit misleading. According to Neil Bergsman, director of budget analysis, the governor added $5 million last year to employer-driven training programs, programs where the state matches grants to companies for job skill training. The total budget for those programs this year is $11 million. That figure will not change for 2000, Bergsman said.
Glendening is allocating $300,000 for the Governor”s Work Force Investment Board, a small state agency that coordinates policy for all state training programs. That $300,000 will allow the agency to hire additional staff and develop new policies, said Bergsman.
When asked if this was the money the governor alluded to in his speech, Feldmann said, “Yes.”
In other business initiatives: funding for business marketing would rise to nearly $2 million from $850,000, but Maryland still falls short when compared with neighboring states. Now, for every dollar that Maryland spends on marketing, Pennsylvania spends $12 and Virginia spends $16, according to budget office figures.
“Obviously it brings us closer,” said Bergsman, “but we’re still well behind.”
Feldmann acknowledged that the administration’s economic initiatives “obviously pale in comparison to what we’re doing in the area of education.”
But, he said, the governor’s term must be judged as a whole, and by the time it ends, his budgets will be a combination of initiatives on education, the environment and economic development, as well as other programs. “We’ve been elected for four years,” Feldmann said, “not for one.” -30-