No revolution in General Assembly

January 10, 1995

Don't expect revolutionary changes from the Maryland General Assembly when it convenes in Annapolis tomorrow. The high number of freshmen alone indicates this 90-day session is likely to be more of a learning experience than an exercise in activism.

Neither House Speaker Casper R. Taylor nor Senate President Mike Miller expects far-reaching achievements in 1995. A 44 percent turnover in membership means that many lawmakers are unfamiliar with the complexities surrounding hot-button issues. It will probably take them most of the 90 days to become comfortable with the details of these legislative controversies.

Adding to the go-slow approach is the inexperience of Gov-elect Parris N. Glendening. He has run Prince George's County for 12 years but has little understanding of the intricacies of the huge state bureaucracy. He is also being distracted in formulating a legislative agenda by the on-going court challenge to the November election by Republican loser Ellen Sauerbrey.

Further dampening the outlook is an agreement between legislative leaders and Mr. Glendening to take a cautious budgetary approach this year. Spending growth could be as low as 2.5 percent in the governor's budget -- though legislative computations are likely to peg the number at closer to 4.5 percent. Still, a clampdown on state spending initiatives means little budget friction and few disputes over program expansions.

The governor-elect also wants to get familiarized with the Annapolis scene before plunging into hot social controversies. For instance, he has decided to delay gun-control legislation until 1996. By then, he will have a better feel for what can be pushed through the legislature. One significant exception could be budget language affecting Medicaid abortions. Mr. Glendening wants to broaden the grounds for obtaining Medicaid abortions. That will set off a firestorm of angry debate.

Action is also expected on welfare reform, crime-deterrence, a crackdown on lobbyist gift-giving, ending the legislative scholarship program and tightening election-law procedures. Lobbyists representing casino interests are already pushing hard to expand gambling in Maryland, but both Speaker Taylor and the governor-elect don't want to deal with this touchy subject in the next 90 days.

More radical changes will be proposed by the enlarged Republican delegation, especially in the House. But chances of a major tax cut or sweeping ethics revisions sponsored by the minority party face an uphill struggle. This seems to be a year of caution in Annapolis. There's nothing wrong with some breathing space every once in awhile.

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