- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 26, 2002

OCEAN CITY Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend said she does not expect to raise taxes or increase fees to pay for a planned $1 billion per year increase in education aid that she is committed to spending, if elected Maryland governor in November.
"I don't think we need it at the moment. I think we have great growth potential in the economy," said Mrs. Townsend, a Democrat, fielding questions about her plans for governing, which she outlined in a 32-page document released yesterday.
She said the state's economy is poised to take off again through Maryland companies that are positioned to profit from breakthroughs in biotechnology and a rising stream of federal research dollars flowing into the state to combat terrorism.
Although the state's budget is balanced on paper and it has kept an excellent credit rating with $500 million in a reserve fund, analysts have warned that Maryland faces up to a $1 billion deficit by the end of the budget year that begins Monday.
Funds needed for a modest three-year start toward the approved record increase in education aid are to come from a 34-cents-per-pack increase in the cigarette tax.
But with increased revenue from the tobacco-tax increase pegged at $70 million to $100 million a year, the levy aimed at deterring smoking will fall far short of covering the $1 billion education-spending increase.
Like Republican gubernatorial front-runner Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Mrs. Townsend said she will do a "top-to-bottom management review" to ensure that state funds are being spent effectively and wisely.
The budget she would propose in January would freeze spending at current levels in all areas except education and public safety and may require cuts in some agencies, she said.
Still, Ehrlich spokesman Paul S. Schurick called Mrs. Townsend's plan "incredibly naive" and said it will not fix the administration's "7 years of fiscal irresponsibility."
Mr. Schurick said, "It's offensive to say there are belts that haven't been tightened and waste that hasn't been cut."
A special commission began meeting this month to consider how to raise revenues to cover unmet needs, particularly in transportation and health.
Opening Maryland's horse-racing tracks to slot machines, from which the state could take a cut of income, is a measure being pushed by some, including Mr. Ehrlich. But Mrs. Townsend rejected it again yesterday, saying it would promote gambling addiction and increase crime.
On that point and in continuing a focus on education and the environment, her proposals show continuity with Mr. Glendening.
But unlike him, she said she would support the creation of charter schools in Maryland an effort that Democratic legislative leaders have stymied, despite bipartisan support, with complaints that such innovations would drain resources from regular public schools.
"Kids learn in different ways. If we have a charter school that addresses a particular type of learning or passion, let's do it," Mrs. Townsend said.
She said she would start new efforts to recruit teachers to work in the neediest schools to help ensure that disadvantaged students get an equal education and continue to push schools throughout the state to adopt character-education programs.
And while she would continue Smart Growth initiatives that Mr. Glendening started to curb suburban sprawl, she said she would shift spending and emphasis away from buying land and protecting it from development and toward revitalizing existing communities.


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