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Glendening Is Hitting His Stride As Opponents Ready Campaigns

By Charles Babington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 1, 1998; Page M03

Tax cuts, sick fish and battles over school funding highlighted the political year in Maryland, where Gov. Parris N. Glendening tried to solidify his sometimes-shaky public image as he prepared for his 1998 reelection bid.

Glendening (D) and the Democratic-controlled General Assembly opened the year by approving a tax cut that Republicans had helped instigate. The new law will reduce personal income taxes by 10 percent over five years, starting in 1998.

The governor had resisted tax cuts earlier. But pressed by both Democrats and Republicans -- who noted that Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey nearly beat Glendening in 1994 by championing a 24 percent income tax cut -- the governor agreed to the version that won Senate and House passage. He said the state could afford the more limited plan.

Sauerbrey, meanwhile, announced she is running for governor again. With her tax-cut message somewhat blunted, Sauerbrey broadened her platform, criticizing Glendening for what she said are shortcomings in Maryland schools, the economy and crime control.

With taxes settled in the General Assembly, legislators and other officials dug in for a longer fight over state aid to public schools -- a battle that continues today. After debates that largely pitted Maryland's Washington suburbs against the rest of the state, the 1997 General Assembly approved legislation that will give an extra $254 million to Baltimore schools over five years. In return, Baltimore overhauled its school management system, giving the state more oversight.

The package also appropriated an extra $167 million to schools in the 23 counties. But leaders of Montgomery, Prince George's and other counties complained that Baltimore had received far more money per pupil than did the rest of Maryland.

That prompted Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) and Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D) to declare a united front in seeking more funds for suburban schools in the future. Glendening shook up the negotiations in midsummer by saying he wanted to steer as much as $250 million over five years in new aid to Prince George's schools, which are seeking to end 25 years of court-ordered busing. Over time, however, Glendening tried to lower those expectations of how much money the county would get.

Meanwhile, the governor, legislative leaders and county officials appeared close to a school-funding truce that will treat all Maryland jurisdictions more equitably. Buoyed by a hefty state budget surplus, Glendening also ended the year by hinting that he'll devote a near-record $200 million to school construction, a move likely to quiet some critics in Montgomery and Prince George's.

In late summer, Glendening grabbed national attention and good reviews by aggressively tackling a Pfiesteria piscicida outbreak after the fish-killing microbe appeared in a few state waterways. The governor won praise for temporarily closing those rivers, convening a multi-state summit on the topic and assembling a task force to recommend ways to fight the microorganism.

His assertiveness seemed to boost Glendening in the polls. On Sept. 2, Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) ended speculation by announcing that he would not challenge Glendening in 1998. However, Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann (D) entered the race, hoping to capitalize on anti-Glendening sentiment in some parts of the state.

On the GOP side, meanwhile, Howard County Charles I. Ecker launched a bid to deny Sauerbrey the nomination. Ecker is hoping to appeal to party moderates, although conservatives have historically controlled the party's nominating process.

Among other 1997 political highlights:

Legislators enacted campaign finance reform. Statewide candidates now must computerize their campaign disclosure reports, and fund-raising is banned during the annual 90-day legislative session.

Glendening won approval of his "Smart Growth" program designed to discourage suburban sprawl. The plan will steer state aid for roads, sewers and other services to more densely developed areas.

The state launched a stricter automobile emissions test with surprisingly little fuss. An earlier trial of the test, involving a treadmill device, created a public uproar.

The legislature closed charitable casinos in Prince George's County. Glendening, meanwhile, said he will fight big-time gambling statewide, declaring, "No slots, no casinos, no exceptions."

The year ended with an ethics investigation into practices by state Sen. Larry Young (D-Baltimore). He is accused of using state-paid offices and his legislative office to promote his private businesses. Some legislators said the bad publicity may spur new regulations regarding possible conflicts of interest among lawmakers.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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