ANNAPOLIS- Republican legislators from GOP heavy Western Maryland said they admired Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s focus on education in his State of the State address Thursday, but they wondered where he will find money for his ambitious programs.
“Education is a priority and it is important, but show me the money,” said Delegate Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, after hearing the speech.
Senate delegation leader John J. Hafer, R-Allegany, reacted similarly, saying, “He talked a lot about education, and I don’t have a problem with that as long as (his plan) is balanced. I would like to have heard more about economic development.”
Speaker of the House Casper R. Taylor, D-Allegany, called his colleagues’ reaction premature. “We’re six days into the session, and we haven’t even opened the budget books yet,” he said. “How do we know if the money is there or not?”
Taylor said the governor did a good job of sticking to his focus on education in the State of the State speech.
One of Taylor’s few Democratic colleagues in Western Maryland, Delegate John P. Donoghue of Washington County, said he also appreciated Glendening’s central theme of providing all children with health care and education opportunities. “I don’t think you can ever be too ambitious in educating children,” he said.
Republicans in the delegation called the governor’s speech a typical example of Democratic tax-and-spend rhetoric. Many were disappointed they did not hear more talk of fiscal responsibility or more specific plans to generate revenue for the governor’s education programs.
“The bottom line is it was a very positive speech, but my concern is that we have to live within our means,” said Delegate Kevin Kelly, R-Allegany. “I cannot support tax-and- spend policies.”
Glendening’s proposed $1-per-pack cigarette tax drew more criticism.
Kelly said he was upset the governor tied higher education programs to the tax. “He’s basically saying that if we don’t pass it, we don’t get the programs,” Kelly said. “Well too bad, because I’m not going to support a cigarette tax.”
Hafer questioned the wisdom of including the cigarette tax, which has not passed, in the budget.
In addition to criticizing Glendening’s cigarette tax, Western Maryland Republicans wondered why the governor failed to mention accelerating a previously approved 10 percent tax cut for state residents.
“It would have been nice to hear something about giving some of our surplus back to the people who made it,” McKee said. “He said in October that he would look into accelerating the cut. But he seems to have forgotten that he said it.”
The governor did not specifically mention Western Maryland in his speech, but Hafer said Glendening’s aggressive promotion of Smart Growth programs could hurt the region.
Smart Growth is a plan designed to limit urban sprawl and protect the environment by limiting state-funded building projects to approved areas. Hafer said many road- building projects in Western Maryland could halt, because they are not in Smart Growth areas. He further said he does not understand why the areas are off limits.
McKee said he fears Smart Growth will become a political tool that could hurt Republican districts in Western Maryland.
On a positive note, all of the legislators said they appreciated the governor’s commitment to education. -30-