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  • Md. legislative report

  •   Governor Demands Action on Agenda

    By Daniel LeDuc and Robert E. Pierre
    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Saturday, March 20, 1999; Page B01

    Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) threatened yesterday to withhold funding for legislators' pet projects until he sees movement on his gay rights initiative, a tobacco tax increase, new teacher funding and expanded union rights for state workers.

    The initiatives, the hallmark of Glendening's agenda this year, have been stuck in legislative committees since the General Assembly session began in January. Now, with three weeks remaining before lawmakers adjourn, the governor is putting on the squeeze.

    "I've told them I'd feel more comfortable sending a [supplemental] budget down when these items are moving," Glendening said. "I ran for office to get things done."

    Key lawmakers reacted angrily and defiantly. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's) called Glendening's threat "immoral and unethical," and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Howard P. Rawlings (D) said: "The only threat I fear is the threat of the voters."

    Glendening said he was willing to fight for his agenda because it was what he campaigned on when voters elected him with a 10-point margin last fall. "A fight . . . means I use the resources of the office to get it done," he said.

    The governor noted, for example, that he had campaigned hard on education issues. He wants to try to end Maryland's teacher shortage by offering college students scholarships if they become teachers. Lawmakers have approved of the idea but did not fund it.

    Maryland's governorship is enormously powerful. Under the state's constitution, the governor must initiate any spending proposal. What is not included in the governor's initial plan often is included in a so-called supplemental budget that is offered about this time during the session each year.

    So far this year, legislators have asked for more than $225 million in additional projects, including proposals for economic development, neighborhood revitalization and college construction. Even if Glendening were feeling more charitable these days, he said, the most he likely would fund would amount to $75 million. But for now, even that much is on hold.

    Yesterday, though, the House gave new life to some of the governor's initiatives. Key committees gave preliminary approval to a $1-a-pack cigarette tax increase Glendening has requested and to increased collective bargaining rights for state employees. A third committee approved his gay rights bill last night.

    "We're not panicking," said Del. Sheila Ellis Hixson (D-Montgomery), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. "His bills are moving out of here."

    Glendening's programs face a rougher road in the Senate. There, the conservative Judicial Proceedings Committee gave a chilly reception to the gay rights initiative, which would forbid housing and employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.

    The Senate Finance Committee has yet to schedule a hearing on the governor's collective bargaining proposal.

    And while Senate Budget and Tax Committee Chairwoman Barbara A. Hoffman (D-Baltimore) said a cigarette tax increase would make it through her committee, Miller said "a dollar a pack is absolutely, positively, unequivocally not going to pass."

    Miller, who has been an outspoken opponent of a tobacco tax increase, took umbrage at Glendening trying to coerce votes in exchange for funding lawmakers' projects.

    "If the projects are right, they should be funded. If not, the taxpayers' money should be saved," he said. "Vote-trading in California is a felony, and it should be in Maryland as well."

    Hoffman said one reason lawmakers have moved slowly on some of the governor's agenda is because he has proposed a lot in one year. "You've got four years to do your programs," she said.

    Glendening has used this tough approach successfully before. In 1997, lawmakers were moving slowly on his plans to control suburban sprawl. Then, in the waning days of the session, the governor announced he would withhold a supplemental budget request until lawmakers came around. They did.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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