Spending plan tied to tax on tobacco

Baltimore court aid, Hippodrome among projects in jeopardy

April 06, 1999|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

Trying to build support for one of his key initiatives, Gov. Parris N. Glendening sent legislators a $153 million spending package yesterday that is contingent on the General Assembly passing his proposed increase in the tobacco tax.

The spending plan includes $3.8 million to help deal with systemic failures in Baltimore's court system, $1.8 million to finish planning for the renovation of the Hippodrome Theater and other projects dear to the hearts of legislators.

If the Assembly fails to approve Glendening's proposed tobacco tax increase, or scales it back from the $1 a pack he is seeking, many of those projects will likely go unfunded.

With only a week left in the legislature's annual 90-day session, some lawmakers said the governor was taking a big chance linking such a fat package of projects to a tax increase.

"If there is no tobacco tax, this [spending plan] vanishes from the face of the earth," Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, told Frederick W. Puddester, Glendening's budget secretary. "You're really playing high-stakes poker."

The House of Delegates has approved Glendening's tax proposal, which would increase the state levy on cigarettes from 36 cents a pack to 86 cents this year, and to $1.36 next year.

But the measure has run into opposition from Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who says the state should not raise taxes during a time of healthy revenue collections.

It appears that the Senate, if it approves any cigarette tax increase, will opt for something less than $1 a pack, according to legislators and administration officials.

Glendening's $1 tax increase would generate an estimated $150 million in state revenue next year -- roughly the same amount as the "supplemental" spending plan he submitted yesterday.

The governor has made no secret of his strategy of tying coveted projects and programs to the success of his cigarette tax. But the plan he submitted yesterday, which becomes part of his proposed $17 billion budget, made clear exactly what is at stake.

The governor proposed $2 million in training funds to help Baltimore teachers gain state certification; $7.5 million in extra aid for the University System of Maryland, about a quarter of what higher education officials had hoped for; $3 million for expanded drug-treatment programs; and $5.4 million for a regional sports complex at Towson University.

He also included $2 million for a cultural center in Brooklyn Park and $250,000 to expand a program that provides free breakfast in the classroom to disadvantaged students.

Montgomery County would receive $1.4 million to hire teachers this fall as part of Glendening's initiative to reduce class size. But other jurisdictions that sought the money, including Baltimore, Howard and Anne Arundel counties, did not get it and would have to wait a year.

The governor did deliver on earlier promises of state funding to help unclog the Baltimore court system. Among his proposals are $300,000 so the city public defender's office can provide legal representation to all defendants at bail reviews, a move designed to keep those charged with minor crimes out of jail before trial.

Legislators killed a bill that would have required such representation statewide, but the administration decided to pay for the bail-review program in the city. The governor is also proposing $500,000 to help the Baltimore state's attorney's office buy a new computer system to track its cases.

Some residents of Wagner's Point in southern Baltimore were dismayed that Glendening tied $1 million in state relocation aid to passage of the cigarette tax. The governor had earlier promised the money to help residents leave the heavily industrial area.

"We're dying of chemicals, the governor says he needs us out, and now we have to wait for a tobacco tax?" said Rich Rotosky, a homeowner on Leo Street. "I better go outside and tell the neighborhood, `Everybody start smoking.' "

Several projects appear to be tied directly to votes Glendening hopes to get from legislators on some of his initiatives. The spending plan includes $500,000 for the proposed Cal Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen -- funding sought by Sen. J. Robert Hooper, a Harford Republican, who is considered an important swing vote on the tobacco tax.

The governor also included $2 million for projects in the Dundalk district of Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., who is a swing vote on Glendening's bill to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Key legislators said they were not looking forward to cutting the governor's supplemental budget. "Some of this just gives me heartburn," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat.

But Sen. Robert R. Neall, a Republican on the Senate budget committee, said Glendening's spending proposal was filled with nonessential projects. "There's nothing in this the people of Maryland couldn't do without for another year, or maybe forever," he said.

Sun staff writer Joe Mathews contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 4/06/99

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