A 'Bah, humbug!' from Santa Glendening

December 22, 1996|By Barry Rascovar

WHO WOULD have thought the fellow in the State House wearing the Santa Claus outfit would suddenly turn into the Grinch that Stole Christmas?

For weeks, Gov. Parris Glendening has been tossing holiday presents to friends and folks he'd like to have as friends. It's almost like the ''Twelve Days of Christmas,'' in which the gifts get bigger and bigger each day.

Such a magnanimous guy!

Then, out of the blue, the generosity stops. When an organized group of Catholic and Jewish school parents inundate the governor with thousands of letters seeking money to subsidize their schools, Mr. Glendening in effect tells them, ''Bah, humbug!'' There's no room at the inn, he says. His administration has its hands full trying to help the public schools. Oh, and by the way, happy holidays.

What a lame excuse. Here's a guy who wants to give most college students free tuition; give pregnant single women making up to $38,000 a year free medical care; give a 10-percent pay raise to state troopers; give $254 million over five years to Baltimore schools; pump another $1.5 million over two years into gifted-and-talented programs, and boost aid to state colleges. That's on top of giving every taxpayer a 10 percent state income-tax break -- at a four-year cost of $955 million.

And he can't find an extra mountain of cash for parochial schools?

Doesn't the governor understand that the parents of those students vote? Hey, every other large voting group seems to be getting some of the goodies.

After all, this is the governor who tells citizens there is plenty of money to start new programs and cut the income tax. He said the other day on a radio show there is no trouble finding extra cash in a $15 billion budget.

Then why not give some of the largess to parochial schools? Let them share in this unending raid on the state treasury.

Perhaps the parochial-school folks should have included some big Glendening fund-raisers in their group. Or perhaps some of these churchmen shouldn't have harangued Mr. Glendening recently about the state's welfare-reform program, threatening to turn away poor folks after the state refuses to assist them.

At last, a limit

At any rate, it is good to see the governor finally admit there is a limit to his giveaways. Maybe after the eggnog runs out, he will focus on the cold fiscal facts.

Mr. Glendening is absolutely accurate when he crows that he can pay for everything in the budget he'll unveil in mid-January. Indeed, it will show a nice balance with all the Glendening initiatives accounted for, including the first step of the income-tax reduction.

In 1998, the state can probably pay for Mr. Glendening's initiatives and the second step of his income-tax cut without sweating bullets -- thanks largely to a $218 million reserve fund that he intends to deplete.

But what the governor tries to ignore (and what legislators won't let him ignore) is the fiscal calamity he sets up for 1999 and especially 2000 -- after the next election.

In those two years, the governor's initiatives and tax cut generate an average shortfall of nearly $600 million. This amount would have to be cut each year not from a $15 billion budget, as the governor claims, but from an $8 billion general-fund budget (of which only some $4 billion is actually discretionary spending).

That's what scares lawmakers. It is also starting to scare New York bond-rating houses. Here's what a vice chairman of Fitch Investors Service told the Washington Post: ''I'm pretty skeptical myself when people are talking large tax cuts and programmatic expansions. . . The lines are crossing in the wrong direction. . .''

But, hey, why worry? As the governor says, we can't predict what will happen in 2000. So in this season of festive thoughts, let's think positive. Be merry. Sure, tens of thousands of parochial-school kids and their voting parents may be in a sour mood, but they should get with the holiday spirit. This is the dTC season of giving. And right now, Parris Glendening is the biggest giver of them all.

Barry Rascovar is deputy editorial-page editor of The Sun.

Pub Date: 12/22/96

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