ANNAPOLIS – Saying “life in Maryland has gotten better” during his two terms in office, Gov. Parris N. Glendening touted his achievements in education, curbing urban sprawl and protecting the Chesapeake Bay in his final State of the State address Wednesday.
Glendening also highlighted his accomplishments in crime prevention and phasing out tobacco farming. But he avoided discussing the $22 million budget proposal for 2003, released Tuesday, which would rescind an approved 2 percent tax cut to balance the budget.
The governor later called the budget “yesterday’s news” and said he wanted to “focus on things that I really feel and believe in my heart.”
Speaking before a full House chamber, with guests including former Baltimore Orioles third baseman Cal Ripkin Jr., Glendening also urged lawmakers to enact security legislation in light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Since taking office in 1994, Glendening has made environmental and education issues top priorities of his administration. Education funding will have increased 70 percent, or $1 billion each year, by the time he leaves office this year, he said.
In one of the few references to his 2003 budget, the governor defended his decision to increase public school spending by $161 million and higher education funding by $68 million in such a tight budget year. Glendening was forced to cancel the tax cut and draw from reserve funds in order to bring the budget, which was facing a $521 million deficit, into balance.
“To shortchange education is to shortchange our future,” he said. “It is unacceptable to tell our students to make do with less: less education, less opportunity, less expectations for the future.”
Glendening boasted of improvements in Maryland’s colleges and universities and public school systems.
Ten years ago, he said, only one undergraduate program at the University of Maryland, College Park, was ranked in the top 25, but now 61 programs are ranked in the top 25. Maryland is also first in the nation in high school graduation rates, he said.
The governor also took great pride in the state’s Smart Growth program, which he said has become an international model. Glendening has been a national leader on Smart Growth issues, lecturing around the country on his program. Glendening told lawmakers that anti-sprawl program has helped the state revitalize communities and protect the state’s farms, forests and fields.
“Smart Growth has become a way of life in Maryland,” he said. “Virtually every project and government decision is now viewed through a Smart Growth lens.”
Through Smart Growth and other programs, Glendening said Maryland is preserving more land – 1 million acres so far – than it’s losing to development.
“Tough budget times will come and go, but once our land and resources are gone, they are gone forever,” he said.
Glendening also asked lawmakers to strengthen regulations protecting the Chesapeake Bay and laws protecting the environment from water and air pollution.
Interrupted numerous times by applause, Glendening also praised Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend for spearheading efforts against crime and to promote inclusiveness in the state. Townsend is among those touted as a possible successor to Glendening.
The violent crime rate decreased by 40 percent in the last eight years, Glendening said. The state also has made strides in ending racial profiling and discrimination based on sexual orientation, and increasing minority participation in state contracts by 25 percent, he told lawmakers.
Glendening called for comprehensive legislation to deal with security issues, including creating a Maryland Security Council and revising the state’s criminal code.
The governor thanked the General Assembly for its hard work and willingness to compromise during his eight-year tenure. Glendening told lawmakers that he “found joy in this job and in working with all of you.”
Going beyond statewide issues, Glendening evoked a conversation with Nelson Mandela about the terrorist attacks during the former South African president’s visit to the University of Maryland last fall.
“We must also come together for an effort to protect the world environment and to fight global warming,” Glendening said. “We must bring the world together to fight the ignorance and bigotry that continue to divide us.”
The governor’s address got mixed reviews from several lawmakers.
Although many agreed with Glendening’s self-assessment that he was a supporter of education and environment, a few were disappointed that he did not explain his budget proposal.
“What he didn’t say was the problem,” said Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Somerset. “He didn’t address the tremendous fiscal problems.”
Stoltzfus called Glendening’s eight years a “tax, borrow and spend” administration, with the governor pumping a lot of money into higher education while neglecting primary and secondary education.
Still others, including Delegate Carolyn J.B. Howard, D-Prince George’s, who held a banner saying “Thanks, governor” during the address, said Glendening has accomplished a lot for education and Smart Growth.
The General Assembly’s concern now is to maintain state services with a sustainable budget, said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, D-Baltimore, chairwoman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.
About half the public approves of Glendening’s handling of state government, a recent poll shows. The Gonzales/Arscott Communications Inc. poll shows his job approval rating has slipped 8 points since last February, when it was 58 percent.
Glendening’s partner through both terms, Townsend gave him high marks, praising him for setting an agenda for the legislative session and outlining “much of the great investments and successes of the administration,” said Alan H. Fleischmann, Townsend’s chief of staff.
– 30 – CNS 1-16-02