Glendening in the counties MACO convention: Record on county issues improving, although flip-flops still give pause.

August 22, 1996

THE OVATION that washed over Gov. Parris N. Glendening at the annual summer gathering of the Maryland Association of Counties in Ocean City last weekend refreshed him, like a cool wave from the nearby Atlantic. He hadn't heard the sound much this summer, getting pounded on a variety of issues, ranging from ethical missteps on a fund-raising junket to his confusing flip-flop on legalizing slot machines in Maryland.

His remarks to the MACO convention were well received because on issues important to the counties, he's had a good year. He increased aid to education despite an overall cut in the state budget and his $140 million outlay for school construction and modernization was the highest in Maryland in a generation. A year ago, local officials feared that he planned to cut education aid to deliver on a tax cut to help him politically, but he allayed those fears.

He also has won praise for his push to reduce suburban sprawl, another delicate issue. Local officials don't want to see a "big brother" state board ruling on where building can take place; indeed, zoning should be a local decision. But the governor is slowly "turning the ocean liner" to redirect growth back toward the weakened urban core and original suburbs.

He is funneling homeowner assistance, business tax credits and school construction aid to older neighborhoods. He hopes that will encourage families and businesses to choose those areas over exurban sites that gobble up farmland and open space. Such delicate prodding of the marketplace may take years to show results, but it's the right course.

He'll no doubt stress his commitment to education and smarter growth when he runs for re-election in the counties, where he didn't fare very well the first time around. In fact, he lost 21 of the state's 24 jurisdictions in 1994, capturing only the three largest, Baltimore City and Montgomery and Prince George's counties. Recent polls indicate his support in the counties is still soft. And many local leaders, even in his own Democratic Party, regard him as a loose cannon, unsure of whether a firm statement by him one day is worth anything the next.

Shoring up that sense of trust among fellow officials, and voters, is a major challenge. On issues important to the counties, however, the governor is on more solid footing.

Pub Date: 8/22/96

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