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Local lawmakers applaud governor's education plan

January 22, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - Washington County lawmakers liked Gov. Parris Glendening's message Thursday about making education the top priority for Maryland, but parts of the State of the State message rubbed some Republican lawmakers the wrong way.

"I thought it was a rather uplifting speech. I thought this was a good road map to the future," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

Glendening outlined his agenda, including a cigarette tax increase, more funding for worker training, a Patients Bill of Rights and a civil rights bill.

Most of Glendening's speech to the Maryland General Assembly was devoted to education initiatives.

"I credit him for bringing that issue up," said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

Glendening wants to reduce class size, invest $250 million for school construction and provide money so local school systems can hire 1,100 new teachers.

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To boost access to higher education, Glendening will push for more scholarships and a $102 million increase for higher education.

Munson said he was encouraged by the possible implications for a Washington County campus of the University System of Maryland.

"I did like what he had to say about education in general," said Del. Joseph R. Bartlett, R-Frederick/Washington.

Republican Del. Louise V. Snodgras said she supports smaller class sizes, but wonders if it will lead to more portable classrooms at already overcrowded schools in her Frederick and Washington counties district.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, said the solution to education isn't spending more money, it is enacting charter schools that are free of state rules and regulations.

Democrats John P. Donoghue and Sue Hecht said they agreed with Glendening's priorities.

"There was nothing in there that I didn't approve of. It's just a matter of can we afford it," said Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington.

Hecht is the only one of the eight Washington County delegation members who supports the idea of increasing the state's cigarette tax by 50 cents a pack.

They are worried about the effect on Washington County businesses if residents travel to West Virginia and Pennsylvania to buy cheaper cigarettes.

"In our case, we simply send 'em across the borders," said Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington.

Shank and other Republicans also didn't like the governor's proposal to tie the cigarette tax to higher education construction.

Snodgrass said she was disappointed Glendening didn't talk about economic development, making Maryland more business friendly, or transportation and tourism.

"There were a lot of things he didn't say," said Snodgrass.

But she and local lawmakers weren't upset about one thing Glendening omitted from his speech - a 5-cent increase in the gas tax.

"He didn't mention it today and that's a good sign," said Mooney.

If the gas tax increase never gets off the ground this year, thanks should go to Washington County voters who elected him and other anti-gas tax legislators, Mooney said.

Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, said he was glad the governor will push to turn a number of the state's contract employees into permanent employees with full health and retirement benefits.

"I'm pleased to see. It's not fair for those individuals," said McKee.

Glendening vowed to build on his Smart Growth initiatives, designed to discourage urban sprawl and protect farmland.

While Shank said he agreed with Smart Growth in theory, he said the political realities can sometimes hurt rural areas.

Because of Smart Growth rules, several Carroll County projects were cut from Glendening's proposed budget.

"That concerns me. Is this going to happen to us?" Shank asked.

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