Glendening focuses on education

State of State speech urges urban revival, battle against bias

`Prosperous and strong'

GOP laments lack of tax-cut support

Democrats like `vision'

January 20, 2000|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening confidently sketched his vision for Maryland's future yesterday, calling on the General Assembly to help build a state with unfettered access to education, revitalized urban centers and an inclusive community free of discrimination.

Outlining his legislative agenda during the annual State of the State address, Glendening called for unprecedented spending on higher education buildings and approval of his bill that would require all handguns sold in Maryland to be child-proof.

The governor said the state is well-positioned amid an economic boom that is producing record low unemployment, the lowest poverty rate in the nation and a $1 billion budget surplus.

"The state of our state is prosperous and strong," Glendening said. "Life is better for the people of Maryland."

Wearing his usual dark gray suit and a conservative striped tie, Glendening delivered a 42-minute speech to a joint session of the Senate and House of Delegates -- his sixth as governor -- with county executives, union leaders, the head of the state trial lawyers association and college presidents among those invited to watch from the galleries.

Stepping pointedly away from his usual emphasis on policy, the governor described an idealized future.

"I hope the children of Maryland one day will think of handguns and cigarettes as relics of a past, unenlightened age," the governor said. "I want the word `tuition' to be seen as an anachronism. I hope these children grow up in a Maryland where our cities are vibrant, walkable, safe centers of business and culture and the Chesapeake Bay is free from pollution."

The governor returned several times to his hope that Maryland will lead efforts to combat racism and other forms of discrimination.

"No, we cannot outlaw bigotry," Glendening said. "As leaders we must come together, draw strength from one another and with one voice say, `No more!' "

The governor cautioned the audience not to tolerate even small acts of prejudice, even a joke "that is not intended to offend but that brings a tear to the very soul."

The governor issued his call for action despite his decision not to reintroduce legislation he unsuccessfully proposed last year to ban housing and employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Glendening decided that such a measure was likely to face insurmountable opposition in a conservative Senate committee, but he said yesterday that he would "actively support" similar bills introduced this year.

Many members of the Assembly's Democratic majority applauded the governor's left-leaning speech.

"As a liberal from Montgomery County, I couldn't be more pleased," said Del. John Adams Hurson, a Democrat. "He has a progressive agenda and a vision for well beyond his tenure that I think is right on target for this state."

But Glendening might have bruised feelings within his political party by asserting that state aid to tobacco farmers making the transition to other crops would close "the books on Maryland's history as a tobacco state."

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, whose Prince George's County district includes several tobacco farms, said the crop will continue to have a place in Maryland culture as it has for hundreds of years.

"Tobacco is an important part of Maryland's heritage," Miller said. "It continues to be an important revenue crop for Maryland farmers, and as long as it's legal, Maryland farmers are going to grow tobacco."

Republicans repeated familiar criticisms, focusing on Glendening's lack of support for income tax cuts in a time of plenty and suggesting that the governor had aimed his rhetoric more at a national audience in hopes of landing a position in Washington.

"It didn't get my attention, but it probably got Al Gore's attention," said Del. Donald E. Murphy, a Baltimore County Republican.

As he often does, Glendening focused much of his speech on education, highlighting the $256 million he has proposed for building and renovating public schools, and his unprecedented $1.2 billion, five-year construction program for state college campuses.

The governor called education his "top priority," but some legislators repeated their concerns that his budget contains relatively small increases in spending on public school operations.

"With all the largess we have, I think we need to find a little more help for [kindergarten through 12th grade] funding in areas where it's desperately needed throughout the state," said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., an Allegany County Democrat.

Aides to the governor said his proposed budget includes a 6 percent increase in spending for public school operations, including $11.7 million to add reading teachers in first and second grades.

Legislative analysts put the increase in education aid at just over 4 percent.

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