Governor's proposals irk Miller Md. Senate president says state can't afford Glendening initiatives

'Pie-in-the-sky programs'

Tax cut, scholarships, health benefits, raise for state police cited

December 05, 1996|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

The state Senate president delivered a blistering denunciation yesterday of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's growing list of proposals to aid Marylanders financially, calling them rank political gestures and threatening to block some of them in the legislature.

Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller said the governor's proposals -- an income tax cut, college scholarships, free medical care for uninsured pregnant women and a pay raise for the state police -- are an attempt to overcome low approval ratings by making "every man a king" in the style of Huey Long, the late Louisiana populist.

"These pie-in-the-sky programs that have been promised are not going to be put in place," Miller declared to a gathering of Maryland business executives.

Many, if not all, of the initiatives are worthy, he said, but the state probably cannot afford them.

He said financial analysts are predicting that the income tax cut alone, when fully implemented, would leave a gap in the budget of more than $400 million.

The forecasted shortfall is ominous, Miller said, because after a similar spate of political promising by Glendening when he was Prince George's County executive, a deficit of $110 million was discovered.

By then, Glendening had been elected governor.

"We cannot let that happen to the state of Maryland," Miller said.

"We will not let it happen."

The senator also challenged Glendening to admit he had erred in pledging to oppose the introduction of slot machines at Maryland race tracks.

Competing slot machine emporiums in Delaware are "siphoning" Maryland money by the millions of dollars, Miller said.

"The governor made a mistake on this issue. It would behoove him to say something has to be done to save the money that is leaving the state," he said.

"There has to be some face-saving way for him to do that."

Judi Scioli, the governor's press secretary, said Glendening emphatically disagrees that his stand against gambling was a mistake.

"The governor feels that this state, which has so much going for it, does not need gambling to help the economy," Scioli said.

"He thinks in the long run it would hurt. It's a quick fix and he rejects it."

Responding to the senator's comments about Glendening's fiscal stewardship and the soundness of his proposals, she said: "Everything the governor has proposed is responsible and affordable, and that will become clear when he spells it out in his budget document."

The Democratic Senate president's critique cast further doubt over the future of the governor's package of initiatives for the legislative session that begins Jan. 8.

Miller's assault was reminiscent of his battles with then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer -- but something of a departure from his generally conciliatory approach to Glendening in Annapolis.

The amity evaporated apparently when Glendening proposed a 10 percent income tax cut, a scholarship aid program for Marylanders with a B average, a pay raise for the state police and free medical coverage for thousands of uninsured women and children -- with virtually no consultation with Miller and other legislative leaders.

Miller also objects to the tax relief proposal because part of it would be financed by doubling the state's 36-cents-a-pack cigarette tax -- a levy that would be felt by tobacco growers in Miller's southern Prince George's district.

His unhappiness with the proposals reportedly was growing with each new announcement by the governor -- and it erupted yesterday.

The senator's broadside came coincidentally on a day when Glendening announced support for another public works project this one dear to Miller's heart.

Glendening said he would support the use of state funds to renovate or replace Cole Field House, the basketball arena at the University of Maryland College Park.

Miller said later that he wants the field house project only if studies show it is needed, if private funds are raised to supplement public money and if it is desired by a wide range of Marylanders.

The Senate president spoke before about 100 businessmen and women assembled at a private club overlooking Oriole Park at Camden Yards by Alan M. Rifkin, a lawyer and lobbyist.

Also on the speaking program were House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. and state Treasurer Richard N. Dixon.

In his remarks, Taylor generally endorsed Miller's observations about gambling and said later he was pleased to hear his colleague criticize the governor for what Taylor called "blatantly promising the moon."

"All the fiscal chickens will come home to roost just as he's leaving office," Taylor said, echoing Miller's concerns about the Glendening record in Prince George's County.

Several times yesterday, Miller said he is committed to helping Glendening be a good governor.

He said the governor had a much better legislative session this year than he was given credit for and then, for a variety of reasons, fell to an approval rating of 24 percent in one public opinion poll.

Though Miller promised to help, he will stop short of supporting the tobacco levy.

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