By Kate Alexander
WASHINGTON – Gov. Parris Glendening received a near-failing grade for his fiscal policy from a libertarian think tank, due to his promotion of increased spending initiatives and the proposed cigarette tax.
The Cato Institute, which advocates limited government, handed Glendening a D overall on its fifth fiscal policy report card on the nation’s governors Monday, ranking him 43rd of the 47 governors scored.
Glendening has never done well in the institute’s biennial report, earning a C in 1998 and a D in 1996. This year, he earned a C for his spending and a D for taxes. While he was listed among the governors with the least spending restraint, Maryland was not among the states with the largest general fund increases.
Glendening’s office dismissed the report and rebutted its findings with a recent study by Syracuse University and Governing magazine that ranked Maryland among the top states for fiscal management. Aides also noted that Maryland is one of eight states with the highest bond rating from Wall Street, an indication of its fiscal soundness.
But Republicans in the General Assembly said they found the study’s assessment of Glendening’s spending to be on target.
Senate Minority Leader Martin G. Madden, R-Howard, said the governor has demanded a significant increase in the state’s budget, and his initiatives are consuming the state’s surplus and rainy day fund, despite indications that the economy is weakening.
“My big fear is that we’re heading toward an F with this year’s budget,” Madden said.
The Cato authors harshly criticized Glendening for past budget increases for school modernization and teacher salaries.
“Glendening has never wavered on his support for fatter state budgets,” wrote Stephen Moore and Stephen Slivinski.
They also derided his Smart Growth initiative, claiming “a few more years of these spendthrift fiscal policies and there may not be much more growth of any kind in Maryland.”
Glendening’s spokeswoman Michelle Byrnie said the governor is investing in priorities that reflect the needs and wants of Marylanders and paying for the projects up-front will save taxpayers interest in the future.
“Gov. Glendening believes that making one-time investments with the state surplus for projects such as public school construction, mass transit and land preservation is a fiscally prudent approach,” Byrnie said. The governor’s approach will “pay off in the long term for all taxpayers.”
Glendening was further criticized in the report for proposing a $1-per- pack increase on cigarettes, the highest proposed increase in the country. But Byrnie noted that the cigarette tax hike was intended as a health-related program to curtail smoking, not generate revenue.
Republican governors on average scored only slightly higher on fiscal restraint and tax cutting than their Democratic counterparts. Virginia Gov. James Gilmore, for instance, received a C overall. The authors lauded the Republican governor’s plan to eliminate the car tax, but gave him and F for his budget, which they said has the fifth-fastest growth in the nation.
Republican Govs. Paul Cellucci of Massachusetts and Kenny Guinn of Nevada got the only two A’s on the 2000 report card while Democratic Govs. Tom Vilsack of Iowa, Gray Davis of California and John Kitzhaber of Oregon got the three F’s in the report. President Bush garnered a B for his fiscal policy as governor of Texas.
The report did not rank Alaska, saying its tax system is not comparable to the other states, nor did it rank Louisiana or Missouri, whose governors only recently took office.