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One stubborn governor

March 31, 1999

With two weeks to go in the 1999 session of the Maryland General Assembly, Gov. Parris Glendening is sticking to his guns, holding back millions in funds for lawmakers' pet projects until they pass a few of his favorite bills. We hope the Washington County delegation can figure out which way the wind is blowing during this gubernatorial storm.

The most important local project at risk is the proposed new University of Maryland Systems campus, which would be the realization of local boosters' dreams of a four-year college presence here. The site, in Allegheny Power's Friendship Technology Park, has been donated, but funding for construction hinges on passage of the steep hike in per-pack cigarette taxes proposed by Glendening.

At this point, the only delegation member in favor of the tax bump is Sue Hecht, D-Frederick, Washington. Hecht has talked to Glendening about the project and the governor confirmed that yes, it will be held up until the tobacco tax passes.

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Delegation members hold out some hope that they can overcome this problem through personal appeals to the governor, but experience suggests that when Glendening gets an idea like this in his head, he's darned reluctant to let it go.

Consider the state's horse-racing industry, which campaigned for years, along with assorted Baltimore politicians, for slot machines at the state's race tracks. Glendening believes anything that smacks of casino-style gambling is a bad idea and has held fast to that belief, even when it would have been to his political advantage to yield. This week the tracks announced they were backing down on slots, for the remainder of Glendening's term.

In return, they'll get some state aid, but far less than they would have if slots had been legalized. The lesson here may be that if a big industry with political backing can't change Glendening's mind, is it really possible for a small delegation of rural lawmakers to do so?

The House of Delegates has already voted on this matter, but the two state senators who represent Washington County still have an opportunity to come out for this tax hike. If they don't, the new college campus may remain what it's been for 30 years - a dream no one ever seriously thought would come true.

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