ANNAPOLIS – Frustrated by Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s nebulous plans for spending $150 million in tobacco settlement dollars this year, Republicans in Annapolis held a news conference Wednesday announcing they’ve figured it out for him.
The GOP caucus unveiled a six-point plan that members said will divert Glendening’s “pie-in-the-sky” smoking cessation and cancer research programs to something more concrete – programs to help Maryland’s elderly.
“The governor’s program neglects the senior population,” said Delegate Addie Eckardt, R-Dorchester. “Seniors have to chose between heating their home or buying medication.”
The Republican plan includes starting a long-term health insurance trust fund, decreasing the cost of prescription drugs, decreasing the price of medical day care and hospice services, and offering tax credits for insurance premiums.
Glendening wants to use $50 million for cancer research, $50 million for anti-smoking education initiatives, $30 million for programs to help smokers quit, and another $20 million for crop conversion and education.
But Republicans don’t buy it.
“The governor and his staff are making it up as they go,” said Delegate Robert Flanagan, R-Howard. “It’s shocking, the lack of specificity (in his program).”
Flanagan said the Republican plan will put the money into results-oriented programs, like Medicaid, that he said are getting drained by health problems brought on by smoking.
The governor’s plan is about as results-oriented as it gets, said spokeswoman Raquel Guillory. His program will save thousands of lives and improve education for thousands of kids, she said.
Assuming the Republicans do have better ideas, they are unlikely to come to fruition unless the caucus can forge alliances with the Democrats, the majority party in Maryland. Republicans account for just 49 of the 188 legislators in the General Assembly.
One Democrat that Flanagan hopes will help forward the senior health agenda is Delegate Joan Breslin Pitkin, D-Prince George’s.
Pitkin sits with Flanagan on a 13-member bipartisan Tobacco Settlement Workgroup, which is charged with coming up with the policies and specifics for Glendening’s plan.
While Pitkin did not disagree with the Republican plan, she was a bit perturbed the caucus announced its own agenda – prematurely.
“It’ll all come together in a few weeks,” Pitkin said of the working group’s final recommendations. Many of the GOP concerns, she said, will be “hammered-out” in the workgroup.
Some Democrats are unhappy with Glendening’s tobacco money spending plan, Flanagan said, but their hands are tied by party lines.
“I think there is a general recognition that the governor’s programs are lacking,” Flanagan said, “but it’s hard for the Democrats to form the nucleus for a counteroffensive against the governor.
“We’re hoping to be the catalyst.”