Glendening Scores on Tobacco Tax, Scholarships
By Robert E. Pierre
Gov. Parris N. Glendening heads into today's final meeting of this year's legislative session having salvaged two fresh victories: a 30-cents-per-pack increase in the state's tobacco tax and money in the current budget for the beginnings of his state scholarship program.
But he's not where he had hoped to be. Glendening (D) had asked for a $1-per-pack increase in the state's cigarette tax. And he originally requested more than three times the amount of funding that he received to attract new teachers to Maryland. The scholarship program would provide $3,000 a year for students to attend a state college if they promise to teach one year in a Maryland school for each year they receive a grant. The measure is designed to respond to a growing teacher shortage in Maryland public schools.
The victories are among the brightest moments in a legislative session in which the governor has had to scratch for every small win, despite his lopsided reelection victory last fall.
But Glendening said he thinks in the long term.
"When you're finished at the end of eight years, what has changed? That's what it really comes down to," he said in a recent interview.
He had to overcome a Senate filibuster to win a tobacco tax increase significantly lower than the $1-per-pack rise he backed, but significantly greater than had been passed by any previous session.
Yet with adjournment looming at midnight tonight, the fate of two of Glendening's major initiatives remains unsettled. His plan to expand collective-bargaining rights to state employees has been weakened, and his push to ban discrimination against gays -- the issue on which he exerted the most personal capital -- is all but dead, though aides plan to make one final push for passage.
Glendening acknowledged that this year he offered many "big and controversial issues to lay out at one time." Aides said yesterday that he is pleased with the results so far, but they conceded that it took everything he had to move his agenda.
"It took hardball, because softball didn't work," said Mike Morrill, a Glendening spokesman. "He knew these issues would be controversial. . . . It's been a great session."
Not everyone, however, shares that rosy assessment.
"I think our agenda is faring better than his," said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. (D-Allegany), who helped pushed through a bill to open the electric industry to competition, with little input from Glendening.
Still, Glendening won legislative approval for most of the priorities he set forth in his $8.6 billion spending plan, despite criticism that his initial plan was bloated.
In an overall budget deal agreed to yesterday by House and Senate leaders, Glendening got $1.5 million to start setting up the teacher scholarship program. He also persuaded legislators to fund class-size reduction efforts this year for Montgomery County, even though the rest of the state will have to wait another year for the money. He also got more money for higher education and for the reform of courts in Baltimore City.
"Everything the governor wanted got funded at some level," said Fred Puddester, the governor's budget secretary.
Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman (D-Baltimore) said the budget turned out well for Glendening, even though he did not make the tough decisions.
"He put too much stuff in the budget," she said. "The budget was too big. Most of the important things he put in were funded. He's going to claim victory for everything."
The teacher scholarships are part of a larger $25 million program, called the Hope scholarships, designed to make college more affordable and to keep good students in the state. It would guarantee $3,000 a year to all seniors at Maryland high schools who graduate with an A or B average and maintain those grades at a Maryland college.
The state could begin offering the teacher scholarships as early as September, but the larger program will not be funded for at least another year.
The legislative leaders' consensus on spending came one day after the Senate -- which had been mired in a debate over the tobacco tax -- agreed to increase the per-pack levy on cigarettes by 30 cents. The increase, which makes the total tax per pack 66 cents, was approved by the House last night, giving Maryland the 11th-highest cigarette tax in the nation.
But legislators -- who met in a rare Sunday session -- still have lots of work to do. The operating budget agreement must be approved by the full House and Senate, and legislators will meet throughout the day today to finalize which capital projects will be funded. House leaders must decide whether they will agree to the scaled-down version of Glendening's collective-bargaining bill.
Glendening proposed extending collective-bargaining rights to about 42,000 state employees. Those employees have bargaining rights now, but only because Glendening made it possible by an executive order signed during his first year in office.
Glendening wants to write those bargaining rights into law. But legislators rejected his efforts to require all employees -- whether they chose union representation or not -- to pay fees to the union responsible for negotiating on their behalf.
"We've talked with national labor, and they're fine with it," Glendening said in a recent interview. "They're very happy with how this has ended up."
Glendening plans to make a strong push to get his effort to ban discrimination against gays out of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. The measure has passed the House but has never made it out of the Senate committee.
Even if the committee, one of the legislature's most conservative, passed the measure, it would take a near-miracle for the measure to pass the full Senate in one day.
A plethora of other measures -- including an effort to expand patients' rights -- are also pending.
The House also gave final approval yesterday to a bill proposing a $10 million subsidy to the horse racing industry. It would allow a track in Western Maryland, effectively ending Joseph de Francis's monopoly on track ownership in Maryland.
The money will bolster race purses and provide money to promote Maryland racing. Track owners say they need the money to keep pace with purses in Delaware, which fattens them with slot-machine revenue.
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