Glendening's foes half-right about his P.G. record

July 19, 1998|By Barry Rascovar

WAS Parris N. Glendening a prudent chief executive in Prince George's County or did he leave behind a $108 million deficit?

Did he shortchange the county's schools, too?

Listening to the governor's detractors, you would certainly think so. But a closer examination shows that opponents may be only half-right.

Fiscal faults

Yes, the record indicates Mr. Glendening planted some fiscal time bombs when he left there for the State House. They indeed exploded after his successor, Wayne K. Curry, took control of that subdivision. Mr. Glendening, despite his denials, was to blame.

But no, the records show Mr. Glendening did not shortchange county schools, as Mr. Curry and the leading Republican candidate for governor, Ellen R. Sauerbrey, charge.

You can't blame Mr. Glendening for a decision by that county's voters to impose a tax cap that severely restricts their county's ability to pay for new schools.

Separating fact from politically inspired fiction is always difficult -- especially when it involves issues that concern few voters outside the county. After all, this was a time before Mr. Glendening became governor. He's got a four-year record at the State House that is of paramount concern to the electorate.

All of the participants in these disputes seek to rewrite history.

Mr. Glendening claims, correctly, that he left office with a $45 million surplus. But that's misleading. He had carefully scripted the budgetary situation to look far better than it was.

How? By delaying four pay raises for county workers -- totaling a whopping 12 percent -- until after the gubernatorial election.

Mr. Curry, not Mr. Glendening, had to pay this inflated bill, which boosted future budgets far beyond earlier projections.

He also approved a scheme so his aides could get their pay VTC raises early, greatly boosting their lump-sum payouts when they quit to take jobs with the state. Plus, he arranged for extra payments to them under the fiction they had been "involuntarily separated" from county government.

Tax cutting

Then he cut the local income tax, the real-estate transfer tax and the hotel tax -- all designed to help him campaign for governor. But it decimated the county's revenue base for Mr. Curry.

Compounding matters were Mr. Glendening's 14 labor contracts with no-layoff clauses. This meant that when Mr. Curry found himself deep in a deficit not of his making, he couldn't fire county workers to close the gap.

Instead, the new county executive had to freeze wages and undertake an agonizing round of labor negotiations to get the unions to give up that no-layoff clause.

One official called it "a very ugly, difficult, painful time."

No wonder Mr. Curry is so angry about the "presents" Mr. Glendening left behind.

Yet Mr. Curry is far off base -- as is Ms. Sauerbrey -- in condemning Mr. Glendening for not giving Prince George's enough school construction money.

How about the $35 million the county's schools received this past session? That's five times the average the county received during the Schaefer years.

How about the $20 million it got last year? That was nearly triple the average state grant to Prince George's County.

What about the governor's commitment to add another $140 million over four years to build Prince George's schools?

No, Mr. Glendening cannot be faulted on that one.

Nor can he be faulted for a tax cap, TRIM, imposed by voters. This tax cap has pinched the county's ability to come up with funds to match additional state school construction grants or to follow the lead of other counties -- especially neighboring Montgomery -- and put up its own money for badly needed new schools.

Finger pointing

Mr. Curry is wrong in blaming Mr. Glendening for the General Assembly's refusal to give Prince George's even more school construction money. It was Mr. Curry, not Mr. Glendening, who failed to make a convincing case. Now, for political purposes, Mr. Curry wants to shift the blame.

Soon, the governor and his critics will turn to other matters more germane to Maryland voters. It's the Glendening record on statewide issues that is most relevant. But his opponents are laying the groundwork in their case against Mr. Glendening -- and he is trying just as hard to view the glass as half-full, not half-empty.

Barry Rascovar is a deputy editorial page editor for The Sun.

Pub Date: 7/19/98

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