Glendening's fiscal agenda tilts to right Governor says cuts reflect conditions, not new philosophy

'Obviously, events change'

Critics, allies alike see conservative shift since close election

November 06, 1995|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,SUN STAFF

As a candidate for governor last year, Parris N. Glendening was forced by his pricey promises to defend himself against charges that he was just another tax-and-spend liberal Democrat.

Now that he is in the job, Maryland's governor sounds increasingly like the conservative Republican he defeated.

In less than a year in office, Mr. Glendening has killed one big welfare program and is talking about sharp cuts in another. He has laid off dozens of state employees and says he plans to trim the work force by another 800 to 1,000 jobs a year.

The candidate who said he didn't want to be governor if he couldn't "invest" in government now says he will eliminate entire programs. The man who denounced his opponent's tax cut plan as "voodoo economics" is now pushing hard to cut taxes.

Republican Sen. F. Vernon Boozer of Baltimore County, who heard Mr. Glendening's smaller-is-better talk at a recent dinner for lawmakers at the Governor's Mansion, said he found the apparent transformation astonishing.

"For a couple of minutes, I almost had to shut my eyes and pinch myself. He could have been a Republican," the senator said. "I said to myself: 'Maybe the message from the last election has gotten through to him.' "

Mr. Glendening says he has not changed his basic philosophy of government since his days as a Prince George's County councilman and later county executive. Times have changed, he concedes, but he says he has not.

Yet these days he makes statements that were rarely, if ever, heard on the campaign trail.

"The voters have said clearly they want government cut," he tells listeners, "and less government is what they are about to get."

In the summer, he told county officials: "Let me state very boldly that the days of government largess are gone forever. And with that is gone the idea that big government is better government."

Despite such Republican-like pronouncements, Mr. Glendening is still pushing his relatively liberal social agenda, including gun control, abortion rights, affirmative action and collective bargaining for unions.

Many believe he is searching for a middle ground: trying to keep his core Democratic constituency happy while broadening his appeal to an electorate that is far more conservative than he envisioned as a candidate.

Mr. Glendening dismisses as "extraordinarily simplistic" the oft-repeated theory that his turnabout is the result of November's election.

He says he never was as liberal as painted during the campaign, nor as conservative as he is now being portrayed.

"There is a tendency [in a campaign] to paint the world as a series of dichotomies. Everything is white and black: 'This is the tax-cut candidate, this is not. This is the education candidate, this is not,' " he said in an interview last week. "You get through that campaign filter [and] there was a very consistent Parris Glendening philosophy."

He said he never has abandoned the three goals on which he ran and won: improving education, reducing crime and creating jobs. The budget he will hand the General Assembly in January, he said, will demonstrate that emphasis.

'$300 million man'

Yet as a candidate, he promised to restore a $170 million county aid program, to spend $12 million to have the state take over Baltimore's circuit courts, and to pump millions more into police protection in the city, among other proposals. His opponents began calling him the "$300 million man."

But such actions seem far less likely since he came within 6,000 votes of losing to Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey, before Republicans took control of Congress and made significant gains in Maryland's Assembly, and before the state faced the prospect of losing $3 billion in federal funds and 20,000 jobs over the next seven years.

"Obviously, events change, the world changes," Mr. Glendening said. "If you're going to be successful, you've got to adjust to those changes and be prepared to respond." He said he has always favored targeted corporate tax breaks to encourage economic development, but agreed to back a personal income tax cut after business leaders convinced him the rate was hindering business development.

Others in Annapolis note that business leaders have been clamoring for the tax cut for years. They say the only reason Mr. Glendening is backing a modest 5 percent to 10 percent reduction now -- even in the face of enormous federal budget cuts -- is politics. Mrs. Sauerbrey pushed for a 24 percent cut over four years, and it nearly made her governor.

To many, Mr. Glendening is merely stealing a page from the Republican book before the Republicans beat him over the head with it.

"It is very clear to me that the governor is looking toward re-election and he cannot get out of his mind the fact that he won by [only] 6,000 votes," said Baltimore Del. Elijah E. Cummings, a Democrat who represents a downtown district that heavily supported Mr. Glendening.

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