Productive but rancorous session General Assembly: Greed of D.C. suburbs, Glendening-Taylor rift nearly mar finale.

April 09, 1997

DESPITE A final week of rancor and distrust, the 1997 Maryland General Assembly managed to compile an admirable record of accomplishments.

As a result of the legislature's work, vacant industrial plants will be revived, political fund-raising reports will be computerized, taxpayers will get a 10 percent break (phased in over five years), parents can start pre-paying their kids' college tuition and city schools get a new lease on life.

County schools picked up a hefty amount of unexpected state largess, too. Lawmakers boosted funds for tourism over the next three years, approved a one-year rescue plan for the embattled racing industry, committed state aid to designated growth areas and embarked on preserving more open space.

The big clash came over revamping Baltimore City schools. It took an unlikely coalition of state schools chief Nancy Grasmick, Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, Baltimore County Executive Dutch Ruppersberger, rural delegates and Republicans to win. As the mayor put it, this package gives city schools "a fresh start" under a new board and superintendent and $254 million in extra aid over five years.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening was cheered by a number of successes -- though he lost major bills on free college tuitions, free health care for uninsured pregnant women, "right to farm" legislation and a tobacco tax hike. His income-tax cut plan was totally re-written by legislators, who also left him with a no-win veto decision on a bill countermanding his order to require treadmill tests for autos. But he deserves kudos for focusing attention on a tax cut and embracing progressive bills on education, the environment and economic development.

Behind the scenes, tense disputes between the governor and a potential rival, House Speaker Casper R. Taylor, led to delays and maneuvers on key bills. County executives from the D.C. suburbs tried to raid the state treasury of hundreds of millions of dollars, but failed.

Given the centrifugal forces that tear at the unity of the General Assembly, the 1997 session proved remarkably productive.

Credit goes to Mr. Taylor and Senate President Mike Miller, who rounded up the votes on administration bills and repeatedly championed causes ignored by the governor -- campaign finance reform, racing bailout and tourism development. They also kept reminding colleagues of their statewide obligations.

In the end, lawmakers avoided parochialism during their 90-day session and embraced what was best for Maryland's long-range interests.

Pub Date: 4/09/97

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