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Governor Seeks Bay Protection Plan

By Daniel LeDuc and Peter S. Goodman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, January 22, 1998; Page A01

Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening called yesterday for new restrictions on farmers' use of fertilizers, employing his State of the State speech to burnish his environmental credentials while setting up an election-year battle with agricultural interests.

The restrictions are the most controversial feature of Glendening's plan to limit the spread of the toxic microbe Pfiesteria Piscicida, which killed fish and sickened people last summer in tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay. It was the state's worst environmental crisis in recent years, prompting new fears about the health of the bay.

While setting Glendening up for a potentially fierce battle with key legislators, the plan also positions the governor to run for reelection on a strong environmental platform, lawmakers and environmentalists said.

Glendening (D) also used the annual speech to outline a series of spending proposals and an agenda focusing on education and public safety to carry him through what public opinion polls suggest will be a tough reelection campaign.

Many of the governor's initiatives were already known from a series of announcements over the last two weeks, but they nonetheless were generally greeted with enthusiasm by lawmakers. They applauded his plans for new health care protections for poor children, increased spending for school aid and school construction, and a proposed new prison in Western Maryland.

But the lawmakers sat on their hands during the lengthy portion of Glendening's 36-minute speech in which he urged them to "rise above political differences" and enact tough new measures to protect the bay from pfiesteria.

"If we do not change our behavior, outbreaks of toxic pfiesteria will continue year after year after year," Glendening said. "I stress that the state is not blaming farmers for the outbreaks . . . and we do not want to put an economic burden on our farmers."

The governor's plan calls for making participation mandatory in the now-voluntary state programs that advise farmers on how much fertilizer to apply to fields. It will offer farmers tax credits as they adjust to the new mandates and includes monetary sanctions for noncompliance. The plan also includes money to upgrade 14 sewage treatment plants on the Eastern Shore.

Although some lawmakers may be skeptical of Glendening's plans, his proposals were greeted warmly by environmentalists yesterday and were further evidence of the governor shoring up his support among his core constituency of traditional Democratic supporters. Glendening is being challenged within his own party and will likely face a strong GOP rival in the general election in November.

Lawmakers said Glendening's agenda, with increased spending on education, new environmental proposals, the children's health care initiative and additional funding for programs for the developmentally disabled, probably will sell well in Democratic bastions such as Montgomery and Prince George's counties and in Baltimore. But it may also subject the governor to attack from Republicans for excessive spending.

Those new programs are possible because of the strong economy, which has increased state revenue to the point where Maryland will end the fiscal year in June with at least a $283 million surplus. Glendening proposed that $100 million of the surplus be set aside to pay for a phased-in reduction of the income tax approved last year, but he he did not embrace any further tax cuts.

"It'll be extremely popular to his core groups," said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. (D-Allegany). "It'll be characterized as a very mainstream speech in the tradition of Democratic liberalism."

House Majority Leader John A. Hurson (D-Montgomery) praised Glendening's proposals and said: "Politically, I think that it sells here in the legislature. The governor is doing something very smart -- defining a limited agenda and pursuing it closely with the legislature."

One of Glendening's Republican rivals, Ellen R. Sauerbrey, criticized the governor for not further reducing taxes given the size of the surplus. "As governor my first priority would still be to cut taxes and regulations allowing Maryland to compete . . . for new jobs and businesses," she said in statement yesterday.

And her Republican allies in the General Assembly joined in the attack.

"The Santa Claus mentality is going to get us into real trouble," said House Minority Leader Robert H. Kittleman (R-Howard).

He said the governor's many new spending programs will play well with voters but will saddle the state with continuing expenses it may not be able to afford in the future. "It's popular, but it's irresponsible," he said.

The pfiesteria plan itself may be of limited political danger for Glendening, who has put the environment near the top of his political agenda, winning support last year with a plan to limit suburban sprawl. Eastern Shore farmers are not a strong constituency, and any effort to protect the Chesapeake Bay traditionally is praised by Marylanders.

But the governor's proposal will have a difficult time in the legislature, where sympathy with Maryland's farmers runs strong, especially among key leaders.

Even such Glendening allies as Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's) were skeptical of the governor's proposed restrictions on farmers.

"We're not going to be part of any bureaucratic rules or regulations that regulate the farmers off their property by mandating controls they can't accomplish," Miller said.

Glendening's proposal would require farmers to have plans on how to manage fertilizers developed by 2000 and implemented by 2002. State agriculture teams would inspect farms every three years to check their progress.

In an interview after the speech, Glendening said those who didn't comply would face penalties, though he declined to provide details. In a later briefing, Glendening's chief lobbyist, Joseph C. Bryce, said the governor's bill would include some as yet unspecified civil fines.

The new program would work to limit the amount of phosphorous -- a key nutrient in fertilizers -- reaching waterways. Current efforts focus exclusively on limiting nitrogen. Although seemingly arcane, that change would force poultry farmers to find alternative uses for chicken manure, which many now spread across fields as fertilizer. Chicken manure is rich in phosphorus.

Farmers switching from using manure as fertilizer to a more environmentally friendly substitute would be eligible for a tax credit for three years to help defray their costs.

Bryce also said the administration was amenable to a bill being proposed that would require some of the state's largest chicken producers to pay for removing manure from areas where it could leach into the bay or its tributaries.

Bryce said the governor was "friendly" to a bill drafted by Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. (D-Montgomery) that would make big producers such as Perdue legally responsible for the manure their chickens produce.

Most of the governor's proposal follows the recommendations of a special panel he commissioned after last summer's outbreak that was headed by former governor Harry R. Hughes. Still, Eastern Shore lawmakers were furious.

"It's ludicrous to take the farming community and make them violators of the law," said Del. Ronald A. Guns (D-Cecil), chairman of the House Environmental Matters Committee, which will work on Glendening's bill. "This is a demented twist, to penalize people who want to be partners in saving the bay. It reflects the way environmental extremists are influencing state policy."

Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus (R-Somerset), whose district includes many of Maryland's chicken farms, said he was adamantly opposed to mandatory restrictions and new penalties for farmers.

Glendening "has totally bought into the extreme environmentalist agenda, and he has kissed off the farmers," he said, dismissing last summer's pfiesteria outbreak as a "farce."

But the governor clearly pleased environmentalists with his plan.

"It's clear that the governor understands the need to make the polluters -- big chicken -- pay their share of the costs," said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, Chesapeake program director for Clean Water Action.

Staff writer Charles Babington contributed to this report.


Here are highlights of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's proposed $16.5 billion budget for fiscal 1999, released yesterday:

Pfiesteria: The budget includes $13 million for research, sea food marketing, construction of treatment plants and development of new technology to make use of animal waste in an attempt to address the outbreak of the toxic microbe last summer which sickened people and killed fish in Eastern Shore tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay.

School construction: Tapping the state's surplus as well as other school construction money, the budget includes $222 million for new schools -- the highest school construction budget in 25 years.

Higher education: The budget includes $64.5 million in new spending for higher education, which is part of a $635 million increase that Glendening has proposed over the next four years. Within this year's increase is an additional $49.2 million for the University of Maryland.

Health care: Nearly $30 million in state money will be used to receive an additional $46 million in federal funds to help pay for expanded health care for the children of parents who don't qualify for Medicaid but are unable to afford insurance.

Prisons: The budget includes $1.6 million to begin design of a new 532-bed facility at the Western Correctional Institution in Allegany County.

Income tax: The governor proposes setting aside $100 million of the $283 million surplus to help pay for a 10 percent reduction in the income tax over the next five years. Legislative leaders have already indicated they want to see the tax cut, which was approved last year, accelerated or other taxes reduced because of the large surplus.

Developmentally disabled: The governor proposes an additional $18 million -- part of the $68 million in new funds over the next five years to provide expanded day-care programs, residential services and other support to develop-mentally disabled people.

State employees: All state workers would receive a $1,275 raise, which averages about 3 percent for most employees. That is the first raise for state employees in three years for most workers. In addition, state troopers would receive an additional 4 percent raise.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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