Glendening emphasizes economy

January 27, 1995|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writers Marina Sarris, Peter Jensen and Frank Langfitt contributed to this article.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening devoted almost his entire State of the State address yesterday to the need to spur job development in Maryland, proposing tax relief for businesses and incentives for companies that bring jobs to poor neighborhoods.

In a speech to the General Assembly that was well received not only by lawmakers but by business and environmental interests as well, Maryland's new governor hammered away at the need to make Maryland a more attractive place for companies to locate and expand.

A strong economy, he said, is key to improving schools, reducing crime, and all else he and the new legislature hope to accomplish.

"Good jobs are the basis of prosperity," Mr. Glendening said. "No government program, no welfare program, no social program can replace the opportunity for meaningful work," he said in a 27-minute speech before a standing-room-only audience in the House of Delegates chamber.

Borrowing many of his ideas from the agenda of the state's business community, Mr. Glendening promised to eliminate duplicative or contradictory regulations, to back efforts to lower closing costs for homebuyers, and to streamline and more tightly focus the state's economic development effort.

He also reached out to environmentalists, assuring them that despite his pro-business message, he understands that a balance must be struck between the state's business goals and the need to protect Maryland's environment.

Mr. Glendening touched briefly on an array of other initiatives he intends to pursue -- speeding up appeals in death penalty cases, easing state regulations on adoptions, and raising the speed limit on some highways to 65 mph.

And he encouraged the Assembly to enact new restrictions on lobbyists, to abolish the legislative scholarship program, and to update and improve the state election system.

The one sweetener many were hoping for -- an immediate rollback of Maryland's personal income tax rate -- was never mentioned.

Mr. Glendening has resisted pressure from business leaders, Republican lawmakers and others for Maryland to keep pace with tax-cutting efforts in other states. Maryland must get its budgetary problems under control before meaningful income tax relief can be considered, the governor has said.

To develop an economic development strategy for the state, Mr. Glendening said he intends to establish a powerful new commission composed largely of private-sector business executives. He said he will name himself co-chairman.

While Mr. Glendening's address was not electrifying, his heavy emphasis on job creation may be exactly what residents want to hear in a state with a struggling economy.

"Our citizens are anxious -- nervous -- because too many people cannot sit on their front porch or walk down their street without being afraid. Too many jobs are leaving our state. Too many children are not receiving the quality of education to prepare them for a bright future," Mr. Glendening said.

His low-key but confident tone -- admittedly "deliberative [and] policy-oriented" -- contrasted sharply with the more forceful, rah-rah style of his predecessor, William Donald Schaefer.

But the message seemed to click.

"The direction is certainly right," said Champe C. McCulloch, president of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce. "To some degree, it is that [Clinton campaign] saying, 'The economy, stupid!' The governor has indicated he truly understands that.

"The issue will be: Will the actions and the outcome match the stated intent?"

Said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany: "I didn't hear anything I didn't like."

To streamline the state's economic development programs, Mr. Glendening said he will create a new Department of Business and Economic Development, moving employment and training functions currently handled in the economic development agency into a new Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

For industries entangled by the environmental regulations of two state agencies, Mr. Glendening promised to consolidate regulatory power in just one, the Department of the Environment.

For developers who have long complained about having to apply to both the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for permits to build on areas designated as wetlands, the governor said he will support legislation to eliminate the duplication by giving sole authority for the permits to the state.

To ease concerns among environmentalists, he said his administration would direct new development toward older, established communities -- a growth control policy he said would be simultaneously good for businesses, the environment and the communities involved.

"The idea of a governor who understands that is very appealing to us," said John Kabler, a regional director for Clean Water Action and an activist in Maryland environmental issues.

Mr. Glendening also proposed a tax break for businesses that begin using electric cars or other vehicles powered by alternative fuels, an incentive that he said will help improve air quality.

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