By Katherine Blok and Sarah Brumfield
ANNAPOLIS – House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. riled a fellow House Democrat with the release Thursday of his agenda for the 2000 session.
Delegate Dana Lee Dembrow, D-Montgomery, said Friday that he did not receive a copy of the agenda and Taylor failed to consult other House Democrats before his news conference.
Taylor’s action, Dembrow said, “certainly compromises the democratic nature of the Legislature. We have a constitution that says things are supposed to be done differently.”
Dembrow, chairman of the Civil Law and Procedure Subcommittee, and a former deputy majority whip, said the House leadership needs to consult with all 141 members of the House before releasing an agenda.
Republicans are not full of praise for Taylor’s agenda, either. House Minority Leader Robert H. Kittleman, R-Howard, characterized a mass transit funding plan proposed by Taylor, D-Allegany, as “a little bit too timid.” Kittleman said Taylor’s plan to devote one-tenth of 1 percent of state sales taxes to fund transit is “too slow” and suggested increasing the percentage to two-tenths of 1 percent.
“I don’t think we can wait 10 years to solve the problem” of mass transit funding, Kittleman said. “If we’re going to keep paying the huge subsidy for mass transit, we’re going to have to find more revenue.”
Taylor’s proposal is “valid” and “should be included in the debate on how to fund transportation in the future,” said Maryland Department of Transportation spokesman Jack Cahalan.
On Thursday, Taylor announced an “aggressive” package of 16 initiatives for the 2000 session. Among them are:
-Health insurance for the poor and uninsurable adults.
-Expansion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
-Funding for public elementary and secondary schools that levels financial disparities.
-A pre-tax tuition savings program.
-Repealing the inheritance tax.
-A corporate tax credit for research and development.
-A new court division for business and technology issues.
-Development of commuter air service to outlying parts of the state.
-Using money from tobacco settlements to pay for increased funding for drug treatment programs and child protective services.
Dembrow said, according to his own calculations, Taylor’s transportation funding proposal actually would decrease the amount of money given to mass transit if it replaces the current funding system. Although he generally favors the speaker’s healthcare proposals, Dembrow said he is concerned about the cost of new programs. He also said Taylor’s education plans are not specific enough.
“Some of this, I’m afraid, is going to carry a big price tag,” Dembrow said.
Other Democrats, however, support the speaker’s proposals.
Taylor’s agenda “is a full plate and I think that full plate, of course, would be totally digestible,” said Delegate David M. Valderrama, D-Prince George’s, a deputy majority whip.
In announcing his agenda, Taylor said he had not discussed it with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Prince George’s, or Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
Michelle Byrnie, a Glendening spokeswoman, said the governor looks forward to working with Taylor. Glendening could not comment because he is attending economic development meetings in Seattle.
Miller was unavailable Friday.
Taylor’s agenda calls for universal health care in the state. His plan would expand coverage for the working poor and “uninsurable” at a partially subsidized rate and establish a fund to offer benefits on a sliding scale based on income.
The Maryland Citizen’s Health Initiative “applaud(s) any efforts to bring quality health care to people,” said Vincent DeMarco, the group’s executive director. DeMarco declined to comment on Taylor’s proposals because he had not seen them.
Taylor also wants to allocate $46 million to public elementary and secondary schools. Of that $46 million, $35 million would go to a “bridge” program to diminish disparities among jurisdictions and $11 million would go to six rural counties and Baltimore City, because they are designated as “chronically economically depressed” areas.
The bridge program won approval from the Maryland State Teachers Association, said Karl Pence, MSTA president.
“One of the best ways to ensure that Maryland’s children reap the benefits of living in the 21st Century,” Pence said, “is to see to it that the public schools they attend are the best that we can afford.”