WASHINGTON - Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening and other Democratic chief executives expressed concern yesterday about President Bush's proposal for a 10-year, $1.6 trillion tax cut, which comes as the economy shows signs it may be slowing.
"There is some concern as to how that impact would hit us and when," Glendening said at a news conference to open the four-day winter meeting of the National Governors' Association.
Bush, who will fully detail his tax and spending priorities to Congress this week, has said that the tax cut is justified by projected surpluses and his plan to hold the growth rate of most programs to 4 percent.
The governors at the conference will meet with Bush tomorrow at the White House.
Glendening assumed the chairmanship of the national governors' group in the summer. In keeping with the association's bipartisan theme, he only briefly alluded to his tax disagreements with Bush at the news conference.
However, Glendening said in a later interview: "We support tax cuts. We've done it in Maryland, and we've done it in other Democratic states. But we think that his cut is too deep.
"With a tax cut of that size, will you be able to do prescription care for seniors, for example, which is very expensive? Will you eventually run into additional deficits, which cause a significant slowdown in the economy?"
Glendening appeared at the news conference at a downtown hotel with Michigan Gov. John Engler.
Like Glendening, Engler said he has seen signs of a nationwide economic slowdown. In Michigan, which relies heavily on the automobile industry, Engler said, the number of first-time applicants for unemployment insurance has increased and the number of families seeking public assistance has risen slightly.
"We think it is a time of prudence," Engler said. Engler suggested that a significant tax cut would help the economy - not hurt - by building consumer confidence. "We've got 31 tax cuts in Michigan, and I'd like to see one come out of Washington. I'm for bigger, faster and across-the-board."
But Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, a Democrat, said he was worried that the tax cut would lead to excessive spending that could perpetuate a cycle of government borrowing to meet budgetary commitments. "Right now, we're kind of in this: `Everybody can have everything they want. We can have huge tax cuts, we can have more military spending, we can have prescription drugs for Medicare and more money for education,'" Dean said. "It never works that way. People have to make tough decisions."
Agreement was widespread, though, on another key issue: controlling the growth of Medicaid, a federal-state health program for the poor. Many states, including Maryland, have underestimated Medicaid costs in their annual budgets because of increasing enrollments and the rising costs of health services and products.
Engler and other governors said that the federal government needs to allow states more flexibility to experiment with ways Medicaid can offer health services while keeping budgets in check.