After 2 defeats, governor looks for a victory

March 19, 1995|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Sun Staff Writer

Gov. Parris N. Glendening heads into the final weeks of his first General Assembly session nursing two big political losses but with the majority of his modest legislative package still up in the air.

Lawmakers handed the governor back-to-back defeats on two high-profile issues last week.

They voted to dilute his proposed ban on workplace smoking and rejected his plan to permit expanded state funding of abortions for poor women.

Some legislators viewed the losses as evidence that the Democratic governor, who won a narrow victory in November and has struggled to overcome a pension scandal, is politically weak.

"A governor needs to have the capacity of working the legislature and picking up legislative votes," said Del. Robert L. Flanagan, a Howard County Republican. "He hasn't shown the ability to do that."

Other lawmakers, however, minimized the defeats. They said the governor appeared to be guiding his other, less ambitious initiatives through the Democratic-controlled legislature and predicted that much of his agenda would survive the session intact.

"His legislation that he's proposed seems to be faring modestly well," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.

Said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr.: "I think the bulk of his program is going to get enacted."

Mr. Glendening and his staff cite several proposals that so far appear headed for passage. Among them are proposals that would:

* Increase the speed limit to 65 mph on rural sections of interstate highways.

* Prohibit death row inmates from filing more than one post-conviction petition, a change designed to shorten the time between conviction and execution by at least two years.

* Create a neighborhood development program that would provide $7 million in grants and loans to businesses in revitalization areas.

* Eliminate the state's $35 million Disability Assistance and Loan Program, which provides grants of $157 a month to disabled adults.

The governor also said two of his business initiatives were successfully moving through committees, although they have not been voted on yet.

One bill would give a tax break to businesses that use electric cars or other vehicles powered by alternative fuels. Another would abolish a tax on equipment, such as computers, used by research and development firms.

'Doing very well'

"I think we're doing very well," Mr. Glendening said in an interview Friday. "Our program is basically going through."

The future of several other issues in which the governor has a stake is unclear.

Legislative committees have yet to vote on his Minority Business Enterprise Program bill, which would nearly double the amount of state business earmarked for minority-owned firms.

It also remains to be seen whether House Speaker Taylor and Republicans can enact a personal income tax reduction this year against the governor's wishes. Mr. Glendening has said he wants to make permanent cuts in state spending before reducing taxes later in his administration.

In the past week, most of the attention has focused on the General Assembly's rejection of the governor's two boldest initiatives.

Wednesday, the House of Delegates voted 72-67 to keep the state's restrictions on when tax dollars may be used to pay for abortions for poor women on Medicaid.

Current law restricts funding to certain cases, including those in which the mother's life or health is in danger. The governor has argued that the restrictions discriminate against poor women.

Del Ali, a political pollster based in Columbia, questioned the wisdom of tackling such an emotional issue in a governor's first term.

"It's like gays in the military," said Mr. Ali, referring to President Clinton's controversial decision early in his term to champion gay rights in the armed services.

Mr. Ali also said the governor's ability to lobby such big issues may have been hurt by revelations in late January about an obscure Prince George's County pension program, which stood to pay him and several top aides tens of thousands of dollars annually for life. Mr. Glendening was Prince George's County executive when the program was enacted.

After a public uproar, the governor agreed to give up his benefits, but defended the pension program and his actions.

His aides took several days to relinquish some, though not all, of their benefits.

"The whole pension thing he has not reconciled," said Mr. Ali, who is vice president of Mason-Dixon Political Media Research. "He should have come out and said, 'Hey, I blew this thing.' "

On abortion, Democratic Sen. Brian E. Frosh of Montgomery County said he did not see the House vote as a barometer of the governor's political power because it is an issue that is largely immune to lobbying efforts. Many legislators hold deeply personal views on abortion and aren't likely to be swayed by gubernatorial promises and cajoling, he said.

Mr. Glendening said Friday he has decided not to push his abortion proposal in the Senate because it could lead to a deadlock late in the session, which ends April 10.

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