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'Chicken' in Annapolis

March 02, 1999

Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening won't make many friends in this session's Maryland General Assembly, unless he calls off the game of "chicken" he began recently with the delivery of his $17.7 billion budget. After watching the frustrating battles his predecessor William D. Schaefer waged with the legislature, we have to wonder: Why in the world would he want to go down that same road?

But that's the way he's headed. It began when the spending affordability committee, a watchdog group which contains influential legislators, voted to allow the state budget to grow by 5.9 percent, though personal income is expected to grow by only 4.9 percent.

Unimpressed with that gift, the governor proposed a 7.3 percent budget hike - $130 million over the affordability limit - funded in part with a 50-cent-per-pack cigarette tax.

Because of the infighting sure to come when lawmakers battle over tax hikes and budget cuts, state Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller called the governor's budget "dangerously reckless." We'd add "divisive" as well, since the items most vulnerable to cuts - proposed state employee raises and more cash for the university system - are the items the Democratic majority will be most reluctant to trim. And there's no hint of the accelerated personal income tax cut near and dear to Republicans.

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Instead of fashioning a budget document that could win bipartisan agreement, Glendening has set the stage for a battle between the parties by putting everybody's favorite causes in jeopardy. Since there is not an unlimited supply of money, the battle could get nasty.

This isn't what Glendening was elected to do, and because he already has one term under his belt, he's got no excuse for trying. He ought to call in legislative leaders of both parties and trim this behemoth of a budget into something that acknowledges that even in good times, there isn't enough money for everything, and that "chicken" is a game for children, not a method of operation for mature adults.

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