ANNAPOLIS – A “major” higher education construction program will be the focal point of Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s agenda in the 2001 General Assembly that begins next month, he said Thursday.
In an interview with Capital News Service reporters, Glendening also said he will push for a major expansion of his Smart Growth anti-urban sprawl program in the session that convenes next month.
“The need for new buildings and expanded buildings for campuses all across the state is immense,” he said.
Though the university construction program will be the “biggest winner by far,” when his budget is introduced Jan. 17, Glendening noted that operating funds for the state’s university system also will increase.
Emphasizing education is nothing new for the former University of Maryland College Park professor. When he entered office in 1994, he pledged to spend $1.6 billion over 8 years to modernize and construct 13,500 new K-12 classrooms. The program, in its sixth year spent $261 million on classroom construction. In the 2000 General Assembly, Glendening backed several programs to address Maryland’s worsening teacher shortage. This included grants to raise teacher salaries, and a scholarship that offered near-full tuition to students at state colleges and universities who committed to teaching in Maryland after graduation.
The governor said that he prioritized higher education for one reason: increased access.
“There used to be signs up in this country for job applications that said `whites only’,” he said. “Fortunately those signs are gone today. But increasingly just about every single job requires some post-high school education.
“Unless we open those doors to higher education to everyone, it’s just as if we had those signs up there.”
Increased state funding of Maryland’s higher education institutions would help to unlock those doors by reducing tuition, he said.
“That’s why we have (had) such an extraordinary increase in higher education funding in the last two budgets and this budget. Ultimately, Glendening said, the goal is to make higher education as free as secondary school: “I think by the end of this decade you will start to see states offering free tuition.”
Glendening also announced a “major expansion” in funding for Smart Growth, specifically for Program Open Space. Open Space uses state funds to purchase large tracts of farm or parkland, protecting them from future development.
Earlier Thursday, the governor named mass transit as another top spending and legislative priority.
At a press conference in Silver Spring, he unveiled a six-year, $750 million proposal to expand and improve bus services and commuter rail systems, including the Washington-area Metro.
During the interview, Glendening said that his spending priorities might prove attractive to high-tech companies looking to set up shop in the state, because he believes they will help produce an educated workforce, a quality higher education system, and improve the overall quality of life.
But, he said, he did not prioritize transportation, higher education, and Smart Growth only to attract new high-tech employers.
“I believe that education ought not be another tool of economic development,” he said. “An enlightened, educated citizenry is important all by itself.”
But, “as a practical consideration, economies of the future will be knowledge based,” he said.
“Whichever country or state or community does best in preparing a well- educated population will do best in that economy.”
Glendening’s spending packages in recent years have been buoyed by large budget surpluses – $1 billion just last year. But some forecasts are predicting those surpluses will end by next year. In late November, the Department of Legislative Services Office of Policy Analysis predicted a $201 million operating budget deficit by 2002 if spending stays at current levels.
Glendening’s second term ends in January 2003, and he is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.
The projected deficit concerned members of the joint Spending Affordability Committee at a November meeting. The committee will meet Dec. 19 to set a cap on the amount of spending the Legislature will allow Glendening to push through in the coming session.
“We will give a prudent (spending increase), something that allows the governor to spend on his top priorities,” said Nancy K. Kopp, D-Montgomery, the committee’s House chairman, at the November meeting.
During Thursday’s interview, Glendening called Legislative Services’ numbers, “pessimistic.” He said that his administration’s figures currently show a total budget surplus of $300 million for the coming year, and that his spending will reflect those figures.
“It will not be the $1 billion surplus we had last time, but . . . we’ll be very, very strong,” he said.
“We’ve have set aside $500 million as a rainy day reserve fund in case there is a downturn in the economy.”
And, finally, Glendening said the state requires a balanced budget and if necessary he will do what he needs to to see that it remains balanced. – 30- CNS-12-7-00