With the governor -- or else

April 30, 2000|By Barry Rascovar

PARRIS GLENDENING may have spent 12 years as a county executive, but that hasn't stopped him from turning hostile toward his former colleagues.

The governor surprised local officials with the vehemence of his anger toward them in the last General Assembly session.

At a March 30 meeting with leaders of the Maryland Association of Counties -- a group the governor once led -- Mr. Glendening lashed out at MACo. He accused it of pushing amendments to kill his bills in past sessions. And he accused the group of trying to defeat one of his pet proposals this session, his so-called "smart septic" bill.

Political opposition or attempts to seek compromises are no longer acceptable. You're with the governor 100 percent -- or else.

Mr. Glendening used school construction funds to insure loyalty: Either support my "smart gun" bill, my "smart septic" bill and my prevailing-wage bill, or your county will get shortchanged.

This threat muted opposition to these proposals (two passed, one failed) -- even though the measures will cost county government more money. And another Glendening priority -- higher teacher pay -- is forcing at least six counties to raise local taxes.

Take it, leave it

Yet when county leaders tried to propose a way to stretch out the financial hit on localities from the pay-raise bill, the governor icily responded he'd rather veto the entire package.

His "my way or the highway" attitude isn't winning Mr. Glendening friends. Nor did he help his cause by reversing position on several MACo measures.

Take the bill to raise state aid for jurors' pay and state assumption of costs for juvenile masters. Last year, it was an administration bill. This year, the $7 million cost suddenly became too much for the governor to bear.

Never mind that the money saved by localities would have been used to improve local courts. And never mind that the state was sitting on a $1 billion surplus. Mr. Glendening wouldn't budge.

This hostile attitude toward local government does not bode well for expected revisions of the state's education-aid formulas next year. More education aid from the state is key to improving classroom learning. But the governor's commitment seems to stop at bricks and higher teacher pay.

Shorting reforms

Mr. Glendening's own state school board sought $49 million to implement a key reform -- mandatory high school graduation tests. But to make it work, the board insisted on an intervention plan to give failing elementary and middle-school kids tutoring to catch up before it is too late.

That didn't impress the governor. He had to be dragged by insistent lawmakers into committing most of the funds needed, over two years, for an intervention plan for middle-schoolers.

But when it came to help for first- and second-graders, he saw no reason for state aid. He told legislators the counties should take some of the current aid they get from Annapolis and solve this fundamental problem of public education themselves.

This hostility toward local classroom aid seems to have sabotaged the state board's plans for graduation exams.

The board is unwilling to proceed without that critical early intervention help.

The "education governor" also refused a $49 million request from Baltimore's school board for remedial help for floundering students. (He agreed to $8 million.). This could lead to a renewal of lawsuits to force the governor to properly fund public education.

Without more financial assistance from Annapolis, local governments are in a bind. The good economic times benefit the state far more than the city and counties.

State tax revenue is rising much faster than local property tax receipts. Indeed, county income alone can't pay for needed local improvements without more funds from the surplus-laden state.

That's why so many localities -- including Harford County -- are looking at tax increases in the midst of good economic times.

And next year, even more counties may have to raise local taxes to pay for the second round of the governor's teacher salary raises. All this while Mr. Glendening is awash in excess cash.

There's no recognition that the problems confronting city and county governments are really the governor's problems, too.

Barry Rascovar is deputy editorial page editor.

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