Spectator in the governor's office

February 23, 1997|By Barry Rascovar

HALFWAY THROUGH the 1997 General Assembly session, this much is clear: The influence and importance of House Speaker Casper R. Taylor and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller are on the rise; the influence of Gov. Parris N. Glendening is in decline.

Witness the negotiations over a major boost in school aid by the state's Big Seven local executives. Did they sit down with the governor to work something out? No. They huddled with Messrs. Taylor and Miller on coming up with a consensus plan. The governor will be informed later.

These local executives are savvy politicians. They are also pragmatists and realists. Power in this session resides on the first floor of the State House, not on the second floor.

Look at what is happening on the tax-cut front. The governor's 10-percent plan, containing a half-billion-dollar black hole, isn't even being given serious consideration. Instead, Mr. Taylor is crafting his own tax-cut proposal that will be the prime vehicle for legislative debate.

Look at the governor's plan to provide free college tuition for B-average students from middle-class families.

It has precious little support because of the uncapped -- and largely unknown -- costs involved. One analyst warns of a new $100 million entitlement program.

Look at the governor's ''Smart Growth'' land-use plan. It is fast running out of supporters, especially from rural counties. The governor's minions forgot to hammer out a consensus before submitting a detailed bill.

In all these cases, the governor blanketed himself with early publicity and gloated about his expansive plans for Maryland government. But he failed to do his homework: He can propose all the good-sounding bills he wants; only the legislature can enact them.

Leaving legislative leaders -- especially Mr. Miller and Mr. Taylor -- on the outside looking in is coming back to haunt him. They control the levers of power in the General Assembly. Mr. Glendening has only a few true loyalists in the 188-member Assembly.

Still, the governor cannot be totally ignored, especially on tax and budget matters. Only he can boost school aid in his budget, for instance, or allocate extra money in the budget to help the state's race tracks stave off threats from Delaware and West Virginia.

But it is becoming apparent that most of the heavy lifting will be done by legislative leaders, especially Mr. Taylor, Mr. Miller, Del. Howard P. Rawlings, Del. Sheila Hixson, Sen. Barbara Hoffman and Sen. Thomas Bromwell. Only after they have reached agreement is the governor likely to get involved.

In the end, rest assured that Mr. Glendening will rush to claim credit for every major achievement of this General Assembly session. That's in his own political interest.

But power is once again gravitating toward the legislature and away from the governor. Mr. Glendening has few solid votes in the General Assembly. His bedrock support is feeble. Most Democrats are wary of his electability in 1998.

Most of his proposals this session were thrown at legislators without advance notice. They didn't participate in their evolution. They haven't conducted their own studies and hearings previously on these issues. They feel no pride of authorship. Consequently, they don't feel any obligation to give the governor what he wants.

In fact, Mr. Taylor has plenty of reasons not to do the governor's bidding. He has gubernatorial ambitions of his own and is in a perfect position to substitute his own plans for proposals submitted by the governor.

Further hurting the governor this session are raw numbers. Few in the legislature believe that Mr. Glendening can cut income-tax revenues $450 million a year while simultaneously proposing very costly education and social welfare programs. His fiscal assumptions don't add up. They are more political statements than fiscal policy.

The legislature's highly respected analyst, William S. Ratchford, has punched giant holes in the Glendening budget and tax scenarios. Lawmakers trust Mr. Ratchford's numbers; they don't trust the governor's.

While Mr. Taylor and Mr. Miller have their own political agendas, they are both skilled practitioners of brokering a deal. They are calling the shots this session. Mr. Glendening's alienation from the General Assembly has never been more evident.

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

Pub Date: 2/23/97

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