- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 31, 2001

ANNAPOLIS Gov. Parris N. Glendening, in the next-to-last legislative session of his final term, has outlined an expensive and liberal direction for Maryland, proposed to cost nearly $22 billion over the coming year.
Mr. Glendening's plan would spend all but $25 million of a projected $375 million surplus without returning any new relief to taxpayers. But it would leave 5.6 percent of revenues in the Rainy Day Fund more than the 5 percent required for Maryland to command the lowest interest rate when it borrows.
What's more, lawmakers will likely find it difficult to ratchet back spending in some areas after Mr. Glendening's term expires in 2003 because of incrementally increased state aid for some social programs.
Although Mr. Glendening contends, and state projections indicate, Maryland's economy will slow but not stall, some key lawmakers do not want to bet on it.
"I'd like to see us put aside $100 million to use next year as a hedge against a slowdown, especially since it's an election year," said Delegate Howard P. Rawlings, Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
How much Mr. Glendening achieves depends on whether he can persuade the General Assembly and his successor to embrace his vision of a state where college is free, green space is plentiful and mass transit is widely available against an economic horizon that is no longer so bright.
Still, Mr. Glendening is expected again to get much of what he wants by wielding the extraordinary fiscal power of his office.
Although the Democratic governor can expect legislators to support increased aid for education and preserving open space, "there will be differences on his social agenda," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Democrat who represents Prince George's County.
Fellow Democrats and Republicans say Mr. Glendening is a "master" at using his fiscal clout to advance his priorities and this year will do so. Only the governor can put items in the budget except for the legislature's and courts' spending plans.
Mr. Glendening again has included hundreds of millions more than spending limits allow, prompting lawmakers again to complain that they get stuck playing "the bad guys" who have to nix or whittle plans and programs.
They will have to cut below the fiscal ceiling to make room for pet projects they hope Mr. Glendening will insert in a supplemental budget. Then some will negotiate with Mr. Glendening to swap support for priorities.
It remains to be seen if the next governor will continue his priorities, although Mr. Glendening has had an unprecedented partnership with the undeclared, presumed front-runner for the 2002 gubernatorial race Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
"Governor Glendening and I have worked hard to ensure that working families in Maryland have the tools they need to improve their lives," said Mrs. Townsend, a Democrat. "I support the investments the governor has made in education, transportation, crime prevention and quality-of-life issues."

Education

The governor says his top priority is a "dramatic" increase in aid to elementary, secondary and higher education.
A few lawmakers complain that Mr. Glendening is using the budget, particularly for education, as an instrument to make de facto policies, bypassing committees other than House and Senate budget panels.
It's not an entirely new phenomenon. Still, a sort of gradualism is established if the governor manages to put budget initiatives in a second time, said Barbara A. Hoffman, chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.
After barely securing approval of $6 million last year to help private and parochial schools buy textbooks, Mr. Glendening has requested $8 million this year for that purpose.
Mr. Glendening said he regards votes on private-school aid as a "matter of conscience" and won't hold opposition against legislators. That, plus its controversial nature, make the item a prime candidate for the budget knife.
Committees will take a hard look at the item, Mrs. Hoffman said, partly because all the money approved last year hasn't been spent.
Also, some legislators are unhappy that schools without needy students and preschool centers account for more than a third of schools already slated to share almost $5 million in state assistance.
In fact, more than 35 percent, or 91 of 257 schools allotted aid, have no "needy" students that is, none who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals.
While Mr. Glendening said he'd like for college to be tuition-free for all Marylanders, regardless of income, he admits his proposed 19 percent increase in scholarship aid and 14 percent increase in operating aid for higher education are only an installment on that vision.
And it's dependent on a budget that is voted on every year.
"We can't sustain consecutive 14 percent increases in any part of the budget" said Sen. Robert R. Neall, Anne Arundel County Democrat and chairman of the Senate education budget subcommittee.
Some lawmakers, including Mr. Rawlings, see an inconsistency between Mr. Glendening's call to make college free and the fact that he has included more merit-based than need-based aid in his budget and will push him to shift the balance.
"That's one reason Maryland got a 'D' in affordability" in a recently released assessment by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, Mr. Rawlings said.
Most legislators agree that the additional money he continues to direct toward school construction, reducing class size and improving teachers' salaries is needed.

Homosexual rights

Mr. Glendening's push for a law to protect persons from discrimination in employment and housing because of their sexual orientation rests with the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
Although the bill passed the House 111-23 when the governor backed it in 1999, the Senate committee never voted on it. A membership change there may have netted it some additional support, but it will still be a struggle to get the bill to the Senate floor.
Mr. Miller said he may offer an hate crimes bill, which could have better prospects for passage. Mr. Miller said that if the anti-discrimination measure doesn't pass, he hopes the governor cannot enact much of its purpose through administrative measures.
Still, advocates are pointing to a recent statewide poll by Potomac Research that indicated about 60 percent of Marylanders support outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Mr. Glendening said he supports a limited religious exemption for "direct" employees such as schoolteachers, but would reject allowing employers to simply invoke personal objections as a religious exemption.

"Smart growth"

Almost a third or $422.4 million of Mr. Glendening's capital spending would go toward environmental projects, preserving open space and promoting "Smart Growth," his plan to curb sprawl by directing state aid to areas already designated for growth by planning or infrastructure.
And while lawmakers say no area is sacrosanct, they also note that much of his Smart Growth spending may be safe because it's targeted to one-time expenditures for land or development rights.
Many legislators have unresolved concerns that the state's road program is lagging at the expense of costly mass-transit projects that haven't solved traffic congestion. But they and Mr. Glendening remain at an impasse.
"I think that Smart Growth is going to be the governor's legacy," Mr. Rawlings said.

Other

Mr. Glendening's plan to extend collective-bargaining rights to non-faculty employees at state-supported colleges is expected to pass with little trouble in the Democrat-dominated state, where labor's influence is growing.
Also likely to win approval is his plan to ban racial profiling.

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