Governor lays out ambitious agenda He sounds themes of education, safety, economic development

January 22, 1998|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

Maryland is in "very good" shape thanks to a surging economy and a healthy budget surplus, Gov. Parris N. Glendening declared yesterday in the last State of the State address of his four-year term.

Speaking to a joint session of the General Assembly, Glendening detailed a legislative agenda highlighted by ambitious long-term increases in spending on education, state colleges and health care for the working poor.

"We must continue to invest in our children and their future," Glendening said. "It is what the people of Maryland want of us, and it is what the people expect of us."

With a hotly contested re-election campaign looming, Glendening seemed happy to tell lawmakers that the state is "blessed."

"We are enjoying the best economy in more than a decade," the governor said. "Our citizens enjoy enhanced security and feel a renewed sense of optimism."

In a 36-minute speech interrupted often by polite applause, Glendening restated the themes he has highlighted throughout his three years in office - education, public safety and economic development.

School aid package

In his proposed $16.5 billion budget, the governor is pushing a new $60 million aid package for local school systems, $59 million in new assistance for state colleges and universities, and a nearly 50 percent increase in the budget for building and renovating schools, bringing that total to a proposed $222 million.

To improve public safety, Glendening is seeking to add space to incarcerate 512 more inmates at the state prison outside Cumberland, hire more correctional officers and give state police a 4 percent raise.

He also is proposing a scholarship for students who maintain a B average and who study science, engineering, computer and technology fields.

Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who was among several county leaders who listened to the speech in the State House yesterday, applauded the governor's budget initiatives.

"The priorities are where they need to be - education and public safety," Ruppersberger said.

But Del. Robert H. Kittleman of Howard County, the House Republican leader, accused Glendening yesterday of making "expensive promises" that will "tie the hands" of future governors.

Key Democratic legislators said they generally agree with the point of the governor's budget initiatives but are likely to scale them back, in part because the governor's budget exceeds the Assembly's nonbinding spending cap by about $27 million.

Tax issue

While the state has a budget surplus for the current year of $283 million, Glendening is not proposing tax relief beyond the 10 percent income tax cut, phased in over five years, that was enacted during the last legislative session.

The state's needs are too great for more tax relief, he said, noting, among other examples, the 5,300 people with disabilities who are on waiting lists for services.

Even so, Glendening's position on taxes may generate considerable controversy in the Assembly this year. Republicans are pushing additional tax cuts, as are some influential Democrats.

"In his flurry of spending activity, the governor has given short shrift to the taxpayers of Maryland," said Sen. F. Vernon Boozer of Baltimore County, the Senate Republican leader.

Of Glendening's agenda, the item that will likely face the stiffest legislative opposition is his response to last year's outbreak of toxic Pfiesteria on the Eastern Shore.

The governor's plan, which focuses on curbing nutrient flow into state waterways, has sparked strong criticism from farmers and others who may be affected.

In outlining his Pfiesteria proposal, Glendening urged lawmakers yesterday to "rise above political differences" to deal with the problem.

Pub Date: 1/22/98

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