State budget issues loom in 31st District

Candidates offer variety of fixes for deficit, focus on crime, education

October 27, 2002|By Gabriel Baird | Gabriel Baird,SUN STAFF

The state's projected $1.7 billion deficit has the six candidates vying for three delegate seats in House District 31 talking about fiscal responsibility.

In this northern county district, incumbents Joan Cadden, John R. Leopold and Mary M. Rosso have varying degrees of experience dealing with budget issues.

Cadden, a Democratic delegate since 1991, and Leopold, a Republican first elected to the House in 1982, are members of the House Appropriations Committee, which considers legislation relating to the state's capital and operating budgets. Leopold also is the chief deputy minority whip.

Rosso, a Democrat seeking election to a second term, sits on the House Ways and Means Committee, which considers legislation regarding taxation.

All the incumbents want to cure the state's deficit spending without raising taxes.

Republican hopefuls Don Dwyer Jr. and Thomas R. Gardner, and Democrat Thomas J. Fleckenstein also have ideas on getting the state's spending in the black.

District 31 changed with the recent redistricting. It still includes Brooklyn Park, Pasadena, Gibson Island and Glen Burnie east of Ritchie Highway. While it lost three of four precincts in Severna Park, it gained two new ones on the west side of Ritchie Highway in Glen Burnie and another in Millersville.

In seeking to represent that district, Gardner, 41, said his experience overseeing part of the Maryland Department of Transportation's budget has given him insight into cutting state spending.

One year, when his department returned a $200,000 surplus, managers were told to spend it so the following year's allocation would not be cut, he said. The Glen Burnie resident wants to change this mentality.

"One of the proposals I have is to turn back [to state workers] 10 percent of the money that employees save," Gardner said. "Then the state benefits by not spending that money, and the employees benefit also."

Another issue on his agenda is requiring criminals who use handguns to serve 80 percent of their sentences before becoming eligible for parole, he said.

Dwyer, a 44-year-old Glen Burnie resident, also said his work experience would help him trim the state's budget.

"I'm just an average guy who is fed up with what's going on," the self-employed teacher of constitutional studies said in reference to deficit spending. "The state's budget should be operated like a business. I don't think we should operate in the red."

He said spending problems are so widespread he couldn't pinpoint just one. Instead, he wants to reconsider the funding levels of numerous programs.

Reforming the criminal justice system also is important to him. "We've moved from criminal justice to prisoners' rights, whereby a prisoner can now get a better education than most people can provide for their children," he said.

Fleckenstein, 31, has focused his budget talk on issues relating to education.

"We need to work together as a state and a county to make sure those educational dollars are focused in the classroom," the Pasadena resident said.

An assistant county prosecutor, Fleckenstein has his sights set on the juvenile justice system. He wants to require tougher jail sentences and offer more opportunities for psychiatric, drug and alcohol treatment, he said.

Cadden said legislators need to look for cuts and other revenue sources.

"We may need to use some tobacco restitution funds," the Brooklyn Park resident said, referring to the $4.4 billion Maryland is to receive over the next two decades. She also suggested tapping a $50 million surplus in the Injured Workers Insurance Fund.

Cadden also said she would champion causes such as education, public safety and affordable housing for seniors.

Leopold wants to expand teacher mentoring programs to include new administrators.

"I also would like to see mentoring for first- and second-year school principals," Leopold said.

Throughout his time in office, he has served as an advocate for disabled people and their families, and he plans to continue these efforts, he said.

Rosso described her role in the House as being an extension of her work as an activist, especially for the environment.

"I feel like I'm an activist-legislator," said the 65-year-old Glen Burnie resident, who said she plans to continue working for environmental justice if she is re-elected.

Campaign finance reports filed by Aug. 30 listed Cadden with $75,995, Rosso with $58,387, Dwyer with $23,936, Fleckenstein with $14,771 and Gardner with $6,369.

According to campaign finance reports filed on Oct. 17, Leopold had raised $53,514.

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