Glendening's 'hard, realistic decisions' Tight state budget: Only schools, public safety and job-growth spared by governor.

January 18, 1996

IT WAS A somber Gov. Parris N. Glendening who spoke to an equally somber General Assembly yesterday about the state of the state's fiscal health. The verdict: It is time for a slim-down diet for government.

With the exception of the governor's priorities -- education, safety and jobs -- state government took a big hit in his $14.7 billion budget. Total spending will rise a microscopic 0.15 percent. There will be no tax increases.

One department, personnel, is vanishing; other offices are targeted for consolidation. Medicaid recipients will move into less-costly HMO programs. Over 1,000 jobs will be cut.

The Department of the Environment is losing $41 million in federal aid and ending four programs (radon, noise-control, underground storage tank loans and indoor air pollution). Two health department facilities are being shuttered. Federal reductions in juvenile justice means 44 fewer jobs.

More pain may come later, depending on what Washington does. But give Mr. Glendening credit: He made what he called "hard, realistic decisions." He protected his priorities and then cut elsewhere to balanced the budget.

True to his word, he protected schooling from the downsizing. Local education aid will rise 5 percent, university aid 4 percent and community colleges 3 percent. Clearly, he sees this as key to Maryland's future.

As for public safety, police and prison spending will rise and grants are earmarked for crime-plagued Baltimore and Prince George's County. The governor urged passage of bills to make it tougher for criminals to buy handguns, "truth in sentencing" laws and a crackdown on disruptive school students.

Job growth also found favor. The governor asked for a 50 percent increase in Sunny Day funds to attract new companies, $10 million in job-creation tax credits and regulatory reforms to make government business-friendly.

Mr. Glendening argued forcefully for his stadium proposals. He noted that each stadium is a net gain for Maryland. Debt service on the Baltimore stadium, for instance, would be $6.2 million a year; the Browns will generate $9.2 million annually though taxes.

This is a cautious spending program for the state but one that carefully earmarks money for areas the governor feels are most meaningful -- job-growth, schools and safety. He did this without tapping the state's $500 million reserve fund. That was a wise move. This money may yet be needed to bail out the state in an economic downturn or to cope with Draconian cuts from Washington. Maryland faces an uncertain future. The next three months could be a time of high anxiety in the State House.

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