ANNAPOLIS – Gov. Parris N. Glendening used his State of the State address Wednesday to push for more higher education and Smart Growth funding and an end to racial and sexual discrimination, but lawmakers gave the speech tepid reviews.
“Economically, educationally and socially, we are enjoying the best of times,” Glendening said. But he warned of “clouds on the horizon that threaten to destroy our great success and prosperity.”
Even moderate Democrats are likely to have problems with some of the governor’s spending plans outlined in his speech, said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Prince George’s.
“This was certainly not a speech from the middle of the political spectrum, it was a very progressive speech from a very progressive governor,” he said.
Glendening, in his next-to-last year as governor, is spending in his budget like a man running out of time. His $21.3 billion operating budget exceeded the Legislature’s recommendations, and it is not just Republicans who are eager to trim the excess.
“There’s no doubt, we’re going to have to cut (the budget),” said Speaker of the House Casper Taylor, D-Allegany. “What it always boils down to is a matter of degree – how much new spending goes where.”
The General Assembly must cut about $235 million from the budget in order to stay under the limit set by its Spending Affordability Committee, a legislative panel that makes recommendations on state spending to the Assembly and governor. That committee suggested a limited spending increase of 6.95 percent, while the governor’s budget calls for increases of 7.1 percent.
In addition, the governor earmarked 39 percent of reserve funds for spending increases this year, a total amount just $168 million higher than required to maintain the state’s AAA bond rating.
Even the governor’s budget predicts sharp declines in the budget surplus, from $375 million this year to $25 million next year, and just $6 million and $3 million the following two years. At the top of the governor’s list is increased spending for higher education and a renewed call to make tuition free at the state’s colleges and universities for Maryland residents. Miller was skeptical about free tuition and said he doesn’t see how that can occur without an additional revenue source. He pointed to Georgia, which uses a lottery to fund state college tuition for all students with a B average or higher. Delegate Van Mitchell, D-Charles, said he found it “interesting” the governor was proposing expansions of so many programs in the face of falling revenues. He also said the governor’s budget ignores the needs of Maryland’s rural residents, particularly in transportation projects. Delegate John Wood, D-St. Mary’s, said most legislators from rural areas are concerned the $750 million dedicated to mass transit projects for the Washington metropolitan area comes at the expense of transportation projects in other parts of the state. Southern Maryland, for example, he said is one of the fastest growing parts of the state and needs more road funding. It is not just budget proposals that will have a hard time in the Legislature. Gay rights legislation, which has failed in the past, will also meet heavy opposition. In his address, Glendening underscored this issue with the story of his brother Bruce, who served in the Air Force for 19 years, was gay and ultimately died of AIDS. “His greatest fear was that he would be ridiculed and discharged . . . he had to live a lie every single day. Nobody should have to live like that,” Glendening said. Miller said the Roman Catholic Church, and clergy in general would strenuously oppose such a measure. “We need to move forward on these issues as best we can,” Miller said. The governor got his biggest round of applause with a call to end racial profiling in the state. Racial profiling is a practice used by police to target specific groups of people for traffic stops based on their race and other distinguishing characteristics. The Prince George’s and Montgomery County police departments have been investigated by the FBI for such practices. “Nobody – not African Americans, not Hispanics, not teen-aged white males,” Glendening said “nobody should be subject to this vile practice.” – 30 – CNS-1-17-01