Glendening Wins Big in Assembly
By Charles Babington
Even Republicans, who two months ago portrayed Glendening (D) as profligate, hardly raised a whimper as the House of Delegates tentatively approved a $16.5 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins in July. Final House approval is expected today. The Senate approved the budget plan's main elements last week, and remaining differences will be settled in a House-Senate conference committee.
Glendening has left little doubt that his reelection campaign this fall will highlight several of the budget's features: significantly more money to build schools in the Washington suburbs and elsewhere; new health care coverage for 60,000 low-income children; and increased spending for public libraries and schools.
The Senate budget plan also includes funds for an initiative not originally contemplated by Glendening: an acceleration of a scheduled 10 percent cut in Maryland income taxes over the next five years, plus extra tax relief for the poor and super-rich. The governor and legislative leaders are still working out the details of the tax plan, but they said it will be complete by the time the General Assembly adjourns April 13.
Glendening said through a spokesman that he was "very pleased" with the General Assembly's action. "Thanks to the cooperation of the Democratic leadership, the legislature is going to pass several important initiatives that will make a difference in people's lives," he said.
Legislative leaders marveled, meanwhile, at how pleasant it is to be an incumbent when there's plenty of money to finance needs and wishes. "It's sort of like the Age of Aquarius, when everything comes together," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's).
Del. Nancy K. Kopp (D-Montgomery) said Republicans might grumble about big-spending Democrats, but few have dared to vote against Glendening's proposals for schools, water quality and other initiatives.
With all 188 legislative seats up for election in November, she said, Republicans and Democrats alike "want to go home and say we've done good things for education, for the environment. . . . No matter how partisan you are, you don't want to go home and say, 'I didn't vote for these popular items.' "
Budget items approved, or likely to be approved, according to legislative leaders, include:
$222 million for public school construction, far above the $150 million appropriated last year. The biggest recipients would be Prince George's County, which is ending court-ordered busing and building neighborhood schools, and Montgomery County, which cites school construction as its top priority.
$61 million in new school operating funds, targeted for low-income and "at risk" children. The money would largely benefit suburban counties such as Montgomery and Prince George's, whose leaders chafed over last year's special appropriation for Baltimore schools.
About $29 million to expand health coverage to children and pregnant women who don't qualify for Medicaid and have household incomes of up to twice the federal poverty level.
$18 million to help provide care for developmentally disabled adults. The money would help end a lengthy wait for services by disabled people, advocates say.
About $70 million in new higher education spending, the start of a five-year plan that responds to critics who say Maryland's colleges have been short-changed.
About $14 million to help control agricultural runoff, boost seafood sales and take other steps to combat the fish-killing microbe Pfiesteria piscicida, which has threatened the health of the Chesapeake Bay. The biggest surprise in yesterday's House debate involved state funding for abortion. Delegates reversed a stand they took last week, voting 70 to 65 to allow state-funded abortions under the expanded health coverage plan only in cases of rape, incest or when the mother's life is endangered. Current Maryland law permits government-financed abortions for poor women to protect the mother's mental health, a looser standard.
The Senate has rejected the more restrictive language that the House embraced yesterday. Several legislators predicted yesterday that the Senate will prevail when conferees resolve budget differences.
"The conferees are going to take care of that," Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman (D-Baltimore), chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, said when told of yesterday's House vote for tighter abortion restrictions.
House leaders said they weren't sure why several Democrats switched their votes to endorse the tighter restrictions. Kopp, who opposes the restrictions, speculated that some legislators wanted to give at least one vote to antiabortion activists after voting with pro-abortion-rights colleagues last week.
House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. (D-Allegany), an abortion rights opponent, praised yesterday's House vote but added: "Whether it stays on in the conference [committee] is another story."
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