Governor's score card looks good Approval of funds for stadiums gives Glendening key win

'A good year, no question'

Most bills modified in compromises foes describe as waffling

March 24, 1996|By Peter Jensen and C. Fraser Smith | Peter Jensen and C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

With a must-win stadium construction proposal safely in hand, Gov. Parris N. Glendening seems likely to emerge from the 1996 General Assembly session with most of his legislative agenda enacted.

He scored a crucial victory Thursday when the House of Delegates followed the Senate's lead and approved $270 million for professional football stadiums in Baltimore and Prince George's County.

With two weeks left in the 90-day session, the governor's second most-prized initiative, gun control, has leaped its most difficult hurdle in a Senate committee and is expected to win final Senate approval Tuesday. Many other proposals, from a job creation tax credit to reform of the personnel system, are now expected to pass.

"He's going to have a good year, no question," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat.

Offering a more ambitious package of legislation than he did last year, the governor continued to define himself as a man of almost infinite flexibility. His compromising style is praised by those who see it as the key to his success and criticized by those who see no reliable Glendening policies or vision.

"He's not what you'd call confrontational," said Del. Ronald A. Guns, chairman of the House Environmental Matters Committee. always willing to massage things. It makes him a soft target."

Hardly any of the governor's legislation will have passed without some tinkering from the legislature. Even his stadium proposal required concessions that sliced $40 million from the stadiums' cost to the state.

"The turning point of the session," said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., a Cumberland Democrat, "was when we convinced him he had to make those concessions." Without them, many legislators said, the stadium spending was too generous to the team owners and would have died.

Mr. Taylor agreed that Mr. Glendening has done well because communication with legislators has improved this year and the executive was able to avoid some difficult issues.

He resisted pressure from Republicans and others to cut income taxes, for example, citing the state's weak economy and lower-than-expected tax revenues. He declared himself opposed to casino gambling before the session began.

"Most of his package is pretty meat and potatoes," Speaker Taylor said. "There's nothing exotic there."

'Beat up a little'

Still, lawmakers made substantial changes in some proposals. An effort to reduce the cost of car insurance has been all but ruined by special interests, and his plan to grant collective bargaining authority to state employees is expected to get the ax shortly.

"He got beat up a little, but he seems to be getting most of what he wants," said Mary Jo Neville, a lobbyist for the Maryland State Teachers Association and vice chairman of the state Democratic Party. "I think people may have underestimated his skills."

To be sure, the prime thrust of his program dealing with education, jobs and public safety is all but certain to pass. And while he is loath to claim victory until the legislature adjourns April 8, Mr. Glendening likes his chances.

"I think it looks good," Mr. Glendening said. "We picked issues that mean a lot to the average Marylander. We worked months before the session and expected some success."

One year ago, the governor did not feel so comfortable. His first legislative session featured a modest slate of proposals that were quickly overshadowed by revelations involving a lucrative pension program in Prince George's County that he had set up for himself and his top aides.

He promised a more significant legislative program his second year, but seemed not to have realized until the session began that two new stadiums -- for the Washington Redskins in Prince George's County and the former Cleveland Browns in Baltimore -- would become such a consuming issue. They ended up forcing almost everything else into a secondary position.

Stadiums made top issue

During last week's stadium debate, he was charged by Del. D. Bruce Poole, a Hagerstown Democrat, with making football stadiums his priority in a period of "anxiety and pink slips -- pernicious and persistent economic fear." Opponents warned Mr. Glendening that the stadiums could haunt him if the state's economy continues to lag when he seeks re-election in 1998.

"The governor made the stadium issue the issue of the session, and he won," said Del. Robert L. Flanagan, a Howard County Republican. "But be careful what you wish for, you may get it."

The governor's staff has lamented what it calls an unintended emphasis on the stadiums. Education and jobs were to be his clear priorities, they say.

Still some legislators and others are asking if the scholarly, contemplative chief executive they expected will be manifest soon. What supporters call his willingness to compromise is bothersome to those who expected more decisive leadership.

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