Only Schaefer growth record was worse than Glendening's

January 23, 2002|By Jay Hancock

GOV. Parris N. Glendening is on track to log one of the poorest economic growth records of any Maryland governor in the past half-century, modestly beating his predecessor, William Donald Schaefer, to stay out of last place.

Economic expansion isn't everything, as both Glendening and Schaefer would note. And governors hold much less influence over jobs and income than their enemies charge during recessions or their friends claim in fat times.

But Glendening took office making broad promises about job growth and business prosperity, so out comes the economic yardstick. Wait, wrong instrument. Get me the micrometer.

For a brief time in the mid-1990s, Glendening said he was "unabashedly pro-business." Ever since, Maryland's corporate community has hurled the words back in his face in reproach.

What business leaders regarded as a breach of faith began soon in Glendening's first term, when he initially resisted calls for an income-tax cut. Citing environmental concerns, he scrapped plans for the Intercounty Connector, a highway that would link Interstate 270 with Interstate 95. Business leaders see the artery as crucial to improving traffic flow.

Glendening has also expanded union rights for public employees, at one point prompting business groups to unsuccessfully sue him to try to reverse the process. His long insistence - recently dropped - on pro-union work rules for the replacement Woodrow Wilson Bridge over the Potomac renewed Maryland's reputation as a place where labor calls the shots as much as management.

Glendening's first two economic development secretaries resigned in varying degrees of frustration.

The first, former Arthur Andersen & Co. executive James T. Brady, was infuriated by Glendening's pro-union stance, his refusal to build the Intercounty highway and his decision to stop the income tax cut at 10 percent rather than raise it to 15 percent.

The second, Richard C. "Mike" Lewin, a former executive with what was then BT Alex. Brown, didn't toss any verbal bombs on his way out the door, as Brady did. But Lewin, too, was unhappy with aspects of Glendening's business policies, and now he is saying so.

"In economic and business development as I saw it, he didn't share the same priorities that I had," Lewin told me last week. "He was willing to help. But certainly he was much more interested in the education angle and, of course, environmental issues."

Lewin gives Glendening good marks for improving the work force through education. But he believes Glendening has missed opportunities in corporate recruitment by skimping on incentive funds and marketing efforts.

Glendening's final victory dance over Maryland business came in 1999 with the resignation of Champe C. McCulloch as president of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce.

McCulloch took office in 1994 with instructions from his board to go for the throat. But after an increasingly secure Glendening blackballed chamber lobbyists, the organization decided on a change in leadership and a friendlier tone.

The tactic seems to have spread. In interviews over the past couple of weeks, business leaders from all areas of the economy have been saying relatively nice things about Glendening as his term enters its last year.

"The governor is one of the most masterful politicians in recent Maryland history," holding "a hammer" over legislation, said Kathleen T. Snyder, who replaced McCulloch as Maryland chamber president. "That's a reluctant compliment a lot of business people give to the governor."

Even manufacturers give Glendening slack, praising a recent compromise over state air-quality and crediting him with more intelligent, sensitive enforcement by environmental and safety regulators.

"Over a period of years, I think there has been more of an ongoing dialogue and knowledge between the agencies and the folks in industry," says Louis Kistner, chairman of the Maryland Manufacturers Council.

Some business honchos even say that Smart Growth, the governor's scheme to channel development toward nonrural areas, might actually work to Maryland's benefit.

"If Smart Growth were to ultimately be administered effectively, it would be good for the state," said Donald P. Hutchinson, head of the Greater Baltimore Committee.

In addition to the Glendening fear factor, a relatively improved economy is another reason for business tameness. Although Maryland's economy hasn't set any land-speed records lately, it has performed better than in the early and mid-1990s, and the sense of relief lingers. Even 20 miles per hour looks fast after you've been going backward.

But this may mean only that business people's memories are as short as politicians'. History marks Maryland's job and income growth during the Glendening years as lean.

Using 2002 figures forecast by Economy.com's Jeff Petry, I calculate that Glendening will have presided over total job growth of 16 percent during his eight years in power.

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