Carroll delegation's recipe for pork flambe

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April 18, 1999|By Mike Burns

CALL IT THE Night of the Long Knives, the Day of Reckoning, the Victory of Vendetta.

Any way you look at it, Carroll County came out on the short end of the fiscal 2000 budget and the three-month General Assembly session that last week approved it.

With the county's all-Republican delegation snorting fire and brimstone, the well-insulated Democratic majority simply yawned. There was no need to respond.

The same for Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who has been the local demon since canceling the statewide police training center abuilding near Sykesville. There were few bones thrown by the Democratic chief executive to this county and its ungrateful delegation. And what he gave, the legislature took away. Mr. Glendening blamed -- with justification -- the General Assembly for axing a $100,000 planning grant for Sykesville to redevelop the old state hospital parcel it recently annexed.

The governor put the money in his supplemental budget for the town to begin work on the 138-acre site, formerly the Warfield complex of Springfield Hospital Center. But he made that budget contingent on passage of a $1-per-pack tax increase on cigarettes. The House of Delegates cut that tax hike to 36 cents, and the Senate slashed it to 30 cents.

Warfield money gone

That left about 60 percent of the supplemental budget items without funding. And, although the state had enthusiastically supported Sykesville's bid to redevelop the surplus hospital land, the Warfield money was eliminated.

Of course, Mr. Glendening pledged only two months ago that he would place $200,000 for the project in the budget. So he didn't escape blameless in the matter.

Guess who was in the forefront of opposing the tobacco tax (and thus killing the Warfield funding)?

Why Carroll's esteemed legislative delegation, that's who.

Carroll's four state delegates voted unanimously against the cigarette tax increase. The county's two senators also opposed the Senate version.

The local legislators argued that it would not prove effective in curbing teen smoking, that consumers would cross into Pennsylvania to buy cigarettes. Sympathy for tobacco farmers also played a role among the agrarian-sensitive Carroll legislators.

Inform the pharmacist

Del. Donald B. Elliott showed why Carroll's legislators frequently get left at the post in the budget race. Of the House's cigarette tax hike, Mr. Elliott declared that "we've passed more legislation bordering on socialistic programs than I've ever seen."

A tax hike to discourage youngsters from acquiring a potentially deadly addiction equals Communism? Someone should inform the New Windsor pharmacist of the serious proven health consequences of tobacco addiction.

But the level of rhetoric in what he knew was a futile, impotent gesture underlines how the delegation would rather fight than work toward compromise.

The Carroll delegation took a similar stand on the final budget vote, casting a unified, but meaningless "no."

Mr. Elliott again rose to protest the tyranny of the state's Democratic leader.

"We have a governor who is still fighting the last election with the ugliest form of vindictiveness and retribution," he declaimed. "We have been excluded from the Maryland that our constituents care about and love."

His plaint was about matters legislative and gubernatorial.

Two-thirds of the governor's supplemental budget went to five jurisdictions that supported him in the 1998 election.

Meantime, in this year of cornucopian surplus, there was a mere $300,000 for a new Carroll County Agriculture Center. The remaining $650,000 requested for the project was denied. And there was nothing for the Warfield site.

There was also nothing gained in the county's campaign to force the state to complete the police training complex near Sykesville. The House approved language restricting any further funding for the project to the Carroll County site, where some $20 million has already been spent. But a Senate committee killed that provision.

Mr. Glendening halted the project late last year, saying it violated the Smart Growth anti-sprawl law. He wants the rest of the center built nearer the Beltway.

Coincidentally, long-planned state traffic bypasses for Westminster and Manchester also violated the law, and were canceled, the administration announced.

Carroll officials got some vocal support from the legislature, but no bill to challenge the governor. They got sympathy from two of the three members of the Board of Public Works -- Mr. Glendening is the third -- but no action.

Carroll's delegation again suffered the consequences of its unsheathed contempt for Governor Glendening and anything Democratic. It has virtually no power to wreak vengeance, its perorations aimed at burning bridges rather than building them.

If the county is to gain its fair share of state funds in Annapolis, a more conciliatory and open-minded approach will be needed.

Mike Burns is The Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

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