ANNAPOLIS – Touting record low poverty and a $925 million surplus, Gov. Parris Glendening Tuesday morning released his $19.6 billion operating budget for 2001, calling for increases in education, environment, transportation and scores of other programs.
The largest chunk of his proposed budget, $6.6 billion, will go to improving elementary, secondary and higher education in the state.
“This is an education budget,” Glendening said. “The strength of our economy is based on education right now.”
Along with providing $256 million for building new schools, Glendening said his budget makes an extraordinary commitment to education by bringing more state aid to public schools and libraries, boosting aid to higher education campuses across the state and creating incentives to recruit and retain the best teachers.
“Next year alone we will need 11,000 new teachers,” Glendening said, indicating that only half of the 2,500 teachers graduating each year from Maryland schools are likely to take jobs here. “If we do not increase salaries for teachers, we will find (these) young people heading off to other careers,” he said.
Along with education, Glendening said his budget’s other themes include fiscal responsibility and making good on previous commitments. He plans a 60 percent increase in the amount of cash the state will use for school construction projects, a method that will prevent interest from piling up on the state’s debt, which stands at $3.6 billion according to David Juppe, Maryland Department of Legislative Services budget analyst.
“We’re saving $193 million by paying cash for school construction,” Glendening said.
And rather than use budget surpluses to hurry last year’s approved 10 percent state income tax reduction, Glendening said he’d like to avoid excessive tax cuts this year and use the surplus to invest in education and transportation – something he said will bring a more prosperous future for the state.
“We believe the way to move ahead is to invest in education…and to maintain a very steady course,” Glendening said. “Good policy will outdo political rhetoric any time.”
Glendening joked there will be 19 supplemental budgets this year as legislators clamor to bring pieces of the budget surplus pie back to their constituents.
One of those opposing Glendening’s school construction efforts will be House Minority Leader Robert Kittleman, R-Howard. Kittleman said Glendening will lose 15 percent of school construction funding through his call for paying prevailing wages, not market wages, to builders. “That’s just taking it away from the children,” Kittleman said. “That’s something we’ll really fight.”
Kittleman will join others in the Legislature in fighting to accelerate a planned tax reduction.
“The governor wants to spend more – we want to give it back,” he said. Kittleman said he’ll work to enact the state’s 10 percent income tax reduction in 2001, not 2002 as Glendening has suggested.
But however serious Kittleman’s concerns, they did not impact the jovial atmosphere on Tuesday as Glendening praised the state’s soaring economy.
On Monday, the governor submitted a transportation budget of nearly $8 billion – the largest in state history and an increase of 43 percent over last year’s transportation budget. Glendening is targeting $2.7 billion of that money for transit, highway, aviation and maritime projects around the state, including a Metrorail expansion in Prince George’s County and a considerable contribution to a new Wilson bridge on the Beltway over the Potomac River.
Fred Puddester, budget and management secretary, said this budget has features that he hasn’t seen in 20 years.
“This is the first time since I’ve been doing this that I’ve seen such a large commitment to Pay-and-Go (using cash instead of bonds for construction), and the largest commitment to putting money in reserves,” Puddester said. “It’s the first five-year forecast that shows surpluses in every year.”
Also boosting Glendening’s 2001 operating budget is Maryland’s portion of the national tobacco settlement. Glendening, continuing his anti-smoking crusade from last year, plans to use the first $250 million of that settlement for fighting cancer and reducing the number of young people who smoke. In fact, Glendening pledged the first billion dollars of Maryland’s tobacco settlement money to decreasing the number of young smokers in the state by 50 percent by the end of the decade.
Glendening credits a progressive but steady approach to fiscal management to his economic success this year, saying he’d rather be fiscally responsible than build a “huge hole” for future legislators to deal with.
And that fiscal responsibility, at least for this year, appears to have paid off. Glendening: “Revenue projections exceed operating expenses for the foreseeable future.”