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Legislature money - what went wrong

April 22, 2000

LAURA ERNDE / Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - A state surplus of nearly $1 billion had many local residents and organizations seeing dollar signs during this past Maryland General Assembly session.

But the gravy train left the station without Washington County.

Washington County lawmakers didn't get state money for any of the four projects they asked Gov. Parris Glendening to fund this year - a national Civil War museum, South Mountain Battlefield, Clear Spring Library and a veterans home.

Although the local delegation secured $575,000 for nonprofit building projects, community leaders criticized them last week for not bringing home more.

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Some people have criticized Glendening for denying funding to worthwhile projects because Washington County's representatives did not support his legislative initiatives. Others accused the delegation of lacking the political savvy to work with Glendening.

Glendening admits he rewarded lawmakers who supported his legislative agenda, which included requiring built-in locks on handguns and expanding a law to provide minimum wages for workers on state construction jobs.

His leverage is total control over what goes in the state's budget. The legislature can cut from the budget, but cannot add to it.

Political payback?

The day after the House Judiciary Committee voted to approve Glendening's gun bill, the governor announced $95.8 million in additional state spending.

Almost half of the money went to three areas - Montgomery and Prince George's counties and Baltimore City - whose representatives were crucial to passage of the gun legislation.

No local lawmakers are members of the Judiciary Committee.

The projects that received last-minute funding included museums, performing arts centers and an equestrian center. The governor even surprised Allegany County by adding $1.4 million for an amphitheater at Rocky Gap.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany/Garrett, was instrumental in persuading the committee to approve the gun legislation.

Glendening said lawmakers are naive to think he would not use the power of the budget, as he has in the past, to push his legislative initiatives.

"No one should be surprised. We intend to use the resources of this office to get through things that are important to the lives of Marylanders," he said earlier this month at a news conference touting his accomplishments this session.

Opponents called it vote-buying.

Process 'denigrated'

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said he was disappointed the political process has been "denigrated to the point where our constituents are punished because we're trying to do the right thing."

Richard G. Everhart, a member of the Republican Central Committee, defended Shank and other local lawmakers for reflecting the wishes of conservative Washington Countians on issues such as gun control.

"I think they did as best they could with what they had to work with. They tried. You can only do so much," Everhart said.

The best solution would be a Republican governor, he said.

But Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II, who is a Republican, said lawmakers need to be able to work with a Democratic governor.

Maryland hasn't had a Republican governor since Spiro T. Agnew was inaugurated as Richard Nixon's vice president in 1969.

"We've got to learn that you've got to cross over those political lines," Bruchey said. "Maybe your vote can't be bought, but you've got to learn to pick and choose your votes and compromise."

On an issue such as guns, Bruchey said local lawmakers should have tried to reach common ground, especially when the bill was destined to pass.

"The bill passed and the money didn't come home. It's the governor, two, Washington County, zero," Bruchey said.

Lawmakers' challenge

Bruchey, who grilled lawmakers about the money issue at a Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce forum last week, said he has taken heat for joining forces with Glendening on the downtown location of the University System of Maryland.

He admitted that local lawmakers have a difficult role to play because they represent constituents whose views often differ from the governor's.

"I think it takes a special person, a special kind of mindset, to distinguish whether you're pandering to or working with," he said.

Those who have tried to compromise, including former delegate D. Bruce Poole, have been punished by voters.

"People who really do work through and get things done often pay the price back home," said Poole, a Democrat.

Poole was unseated in 1998 by Republican Shank, who has vowed to vote true to the conservative values of his constituents in southern Washington County.

The same year, Sen. Alex X. Mooney defeated fellow Republican John W. Derr on the grounds that Derr had sold out his constituents in Frederick and Washington counties.

"It may be that's what the people want," Poole said. "It may be the voters really don't want someone who's willing to work through problems. As a result, you tend to get less.

Political reality

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