Budget battle goes public

Glendening tours to gather support for his priorities

Assembly ponders cuts

March 13, 2001|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Trying to rally public support for his embattled spending plan, Gov. Parris N. Glendening embarked yesterday on a weeklong tour of Maryland to promote his budget proposals for higher education, the environment and mass transit.

"I feel very strongly about these things," Glendening said yesterday after an event at Anne Arundel Community College. "Part of the responsibility of the governor is to set priorities, and I have set priorities with my budget. These things should not be cut."

The event focused on four community college students who the governor said would be hurt if his proposed budget is cut - including a single mother from Severn working toward a degree in business and an Anne Arundel County firefighter hoping to become a nurse.

"This is the face of a man struggling to keep the finances and the house and the family going," said Thomas A. Pezza Jr., the 37-year-old firefighter and father of three. "I've paid $7,000 in tuition over the last two years, and I couldn't afford any more tuition than that."

Glendening launched the public campaign to save his budget during a week when the House of Delegates is expected to take up recommendations for large cuts to some of his top initiatives.

The reductions recommended by the House Appropriations Committee include cutting the spending increase for higher education from 14 percent to 10 percent and slashing $30 million from Glendening's proposed $69 million increase to mass transit.

The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee is considering larger cuts to some areas - possibly slicing the higher education budget increase in half. During the past few years, the state's colleges and universities have received some of the largest budget increases of any area of state government, an effort by Glendening to make up for the large cuts to higher education during the recession of the early 1990s.

"When someone says, `We've done enough for higher education,' what they're saying is, `We've done enough for Maryland and enough for the students of Maryland,'" Glendening said. "I don't believe that's so."

But legislative budget leaders dismissed Glendening's efforts as public relations grandstanding. For weeks, they've been criticizing his budget proposal for exceeding the legislature's self-imposed spending limits by almost $200 million while failing to provide adequate funding in such areas as mental health services.

"He really needs to go and talk to the families of those people who are receiving mental health services and are about to be thrown out onto the street without any services because the department has a $40 million deficit," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

Glendening acknowledged the shortfalls in some health services and said a supplemental spending plan will provide extra money. But he defended his priorities, saying it was crucial to include them in this year's budget without severe cuts.

"A year's delay in funding some of these Smart Growth land-preservation areas means that some of these farms and open-space areas will be paved over," he said.

The governor plans to promote his environmental initiatives at events this week in Baltimore and Annapolis, and to push his higher education budget at University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Last night, the governor spoke to a rally of mass transit supporters outside the State House.

"This isn't about numbers and statistics and other things. It's about people," the governor said. "Let's demand that we have mass transit throughout the entire state of Maryland."

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