Glendening scores key wins

April 14, 1999|By Barry Rascovar

IN THE afterglow of the 90-day General Assembly session, do not be fooled by accounts of unrivaled gubernatorial triumphs. Yes, Gov. Parris N. Glendening won some key victories, but many of his bills were watered down or severely weakened. When lawmakers gave Mr. Glendening what he wanted, they often did so grudgingly.

Will they be as willing to accommodate the governor next year? Many legislators are in a "get even" mood after what happened to them this session.

Mr. Glendening's repeated threat to veto legislators' bills if he wasn't given his way will be remembered. So will his hard-nosed attempt to bribe lawmakers by tying items in the budget to passage of other administration measures.

Tough tactics

The governor did not apologize for such tactics. Indeed, there was nothing subtle about Mr. Glendening's approach. Some lawmakers felt it showed a lack of respect for the lawmaking branch of government.

Other legislators are alarmed by the governor's break-the-bank habits. Mr. Glendening firmly believes that we have entered a new era in U.S. history, spurred by a high-tech revolution, which will prolong the economic boom far into the future.

Spending spree

So it is not surprising that the governor is on a long-term spending spree. This clashes with the General Assembly's tradition of conservative budgeting. Legislative leaders let the governor off the hook this session, but they could take a tougher stand next year.

Still, Mr. Glendening has put in place major spending programs that must be funded in the coming years -- $3,000 scholarships for every B-average college student; reading teachers in elementary schools to reduce classroom sizes; a huge increase in funds for state colleges; plans to spend another $750 million on school construction; an expansion of Medicaid benefits to residents of assisted-living facilities.

One future fight will come over distribution of Maryland's share of the national tobacco settlement. Lawmakers and the governor are unlikely to see eye to eye on spending this money.

An equally big fight will center on fortifying the state's under-funded transportation program. The governor is sure to press for higher taxes; some legislators will propose re-directing existing state revenue into the transportation trust fund.

Politics is likely to play a bigger role next session. Senate Republicans flexed their muscle this year and are now better positioned to harass and frustrate the governor. State Sens. Robert Neall and Martin Madden emerged as influential advocates for more cautious, conservative social spending. Next year's presidential primary campaigns will impact on the tone of the 2000 General Assembly, too.

Some Democrats, including Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Casper Taylor, are concerned about the governor's defiantly liberal agenda. They worry that the GOP, especially in rural and suburban Maryland, will seize on this to make a strong comeback in 2002.

That concern could prod Democratic lawmakers to take a more independent stance next year. Mr. Taylor had success piecing together a middle-of-the-road leadership agenda this time. He could find members eager to set a more moderate tone next time, too.

Finally, because Mr. Glendening is in his last term -- barred by law from running again -- his hold over lawmakers is likely to grow weaker in future legislative sessions.

Maryland's exceptionally good economy, however, could help him. If budget surpluses continue to accumulate, there will be plenty of money for Mr. Glendening to hand out to compliant lawmakers. This year's successes could be a prelude to more victories next session.

Barry Rascovar is a deputy editorial page editor.

Pub Date: 4/14/99

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