Gov. Parris N. Glendening devoted almost his entire State of the State address yesterday to the need to spur job development in Maryland, proposing tax relief for businesses and incentives for companies that bring jobs to poor neighborhoods.
In a speech to the General Assembly that was well received not only by lawmakers but by business and environmental interests as well, Maryland's new governor hammered away at the need to make Maryland a more attractive place for companies to locate and expand.
A strong economy, he said, is key to improving schools, reducing crime, and all else he and the new legislature hope to accomplish.
"Good jobs are the basis of prosperity," Mr. Glendening said. "No government program, no welfare program, no social program can replace the opportunity for meaningful work," he said in a 27-minute speech before a standing-room-only audience in the House of Delegates chamber.
Borrowing many of his ideas from the agenda of the state's business community, Mr. Glendening promised to eliminate duplicative or contradictory regulations, to back efforts to lower closing costs for homebuyers, and to streamline and more tightly focus the state's economic development effort.
He also reached out to environmentalists, assuring them that despite his pro-business message, he understands that a balance must be struck between the state's business goals and the need to protect Maryland's environment.
Mr. Glendening touched briefly on an array of other initiatives he intends to pursue -- speeding up appeals in death penalty cases, easing state regulations on adoptions, and raising the speed limit on some highways to 65 mph.
And he encouraged the Assembly to enact new restrictions on lobbyists, to abolish the legislative scholarship program, and to update and improve the state election system.
The one sweetener many were hoping for -- an immediate rollback of Maryland's personal income tax rate -- was never mentioned.
Mr. Glendening has resisted pressure from business leaders, Republican lawmakers and others for Maryland to keep pace with tax-cutting efforts in other states. Maryland must get its budgetary problems under control before meaningful income tax relief can be considered, the governor has said.
To develop an economic development strategy for the state, Mr. Glendening said he intends to establish a powerful new commission composed largely of private-sector business executives. He said he will name himself co-chairman.
While Mr. Glendening's address was not electrifying, his heavy emphasis on job creation may be exactly what residents want to hear in a state with a struggling economy.
"Our citizens are anxious -- nervous -- because too many people cannot sit on their front porch or walk down their street without being afraid. Too many jobs are leaving our state. Too many children are not receiving the quality of education to prepare them for a bright future," Mr. Glendening said.
His low-key but confident tone -- admittedly "deliberative [and] policy-oriented" -- contrasted sharply with the more forceful, rah-rah style of his predecessor, William Donald Schaefer.
But the message seemed to click.
"The direction is certainly right," said Champe C. McCulloch, president of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce. "To some degree, it is that [Clinton campaign] saying, 'The economy, stupid!' The governor has indicated he truly understands that.
"The issue will be: Will the actions and the outcome match the stated intent?"
Said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany: "I didn't hear anything I didn't like."
To streamline the state's economic development programs, Mr. Glendening said he will create a new Department of Business and Economic Development, moving employment and training functions currently handled in the economic development agency into a new Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
For industries entangled by the environmental regulations of two state agencies, Mr. Glendening promised to consolidate regulatory power in just one, the Department of the Environment.
For developers who have long complained about having to apply to both the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for permits to build on areas designated as wetlands, the governor said he will support legislation to eliminate the duplication by giving sole authority for the permits to the state.
To ease concerns among environmentalists, he said his administration would direct new development toward older, established communities -- a growth control policy he said would be simultaneously good for businesses, the environment and the communities involved.
"The idea of a governor who understands that is very appealing to us," said John Kabler, a regional director for Clean Water Action and an activist in Maryland environmental issues.
Mr. Glendening also proposed a tax break for businesses that begin using electric cars or other vehicles powered by alternative fuels, an incentive that he said will help improve air quality.
As for the governor's attack on over-regulation, Mr. Kabler said, "We are opposed to duplication and stupid regulations, too. But this is an area where we have to be really careful. If streamlining and avoiding duplication is a buzzword for repealing environmental regulations, then we would be upset. But we are confident that is not what Governor Glendening means."
Sen. Walter M. Baker, a conservative Cecil County Democrat, summed up the speech by saying: "I think he's on the right track. I think that we need to depend a whole lot more on the private sector. Government shouldn't be doing it alone."
Even members of the legislature's recently enlarged Republican contingent sounded generally supportive, although several said the governor did not go far enough.
"I didn't hear too much in the speech I could quarrel with," said Senate Minority Leader John A. Cade of Anne Arundel County.
"He's talking like a Republican, and it's hard to find fault with a lot of it," agreed House Minority Leader Robert H. Kittleman of Howard County. But Mr. Kittleman said he thought the governor avoided some of the more contentious issues.
"He didn't say anything about making Maryland a right-to-work state to help business. He talked about things where there is general agreement, not the tough things we're going to have to do in order to improve the business climate."
Patrick J. Hogan, a freshmen Republican senator from Montgomery County, said the governor was not listening to corporate leaders when he told the Assembly that there is nothing wrong with Maryland adopting environmental regulations that are more restrictive than the federal government's. "That's the top reasons businesses don't locate here or leave," he said.
Sen. Martin G. Madden, a Howard County Republican, said that income tax relief was even more important and that he believes )) the governor must propose such relief by next year if Maryland is to remain competitive.
Baltimore Del. Elijah E. Cummings, the speaker pro tem, said of Mr. Glendening: "You have a governor not going as fast as some people want or push as far to the left as some, but he's carefully setting priorities."
STATE OF THE STATE HIGHLIGHTS
Here are highlights of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's legislative proposals as outlined in his State of the State address yesterday:
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT -- The state's economic development department would be pared down, and it would focus on bringing jobs to Maryland and keeping those now here. A new Maryland Economic Development Commission made up of business representatives would oversee economic development efforts. Job-training programs would be transferred to a reorganized department of licensing, regulation and labor. A $7 million program would award grants and loans to new small businesses in poor areas across the state.
ENVIRONMENT -- The state would assume responsibility for issuing permits for projects affecting nontidal wetlands, or marshy areas. Currently, both the state and federal governments are involved. The state also would consolidate overlapping functions in two environmental departments. The Department of Environment would enforce almost all regulations, while the Natural Resources agency would manage parks and Chesapeake Bay programs.
TAXES -- The governor proposed no new taxes and some tax relief. The 5 percent sales tax on snack foods would be repealed. The snack tax had angered officials at Frito-Lay Inc., which has a plant in Aberdeen. To promote clean air, businesses would get tax credits for buying vehicles powered by electricity or fuels other than gasoline. The local "personal" property tax on equipment, such as computers, used by businesses for research and development would be abolished.
EDUCATION -- The governor has proposed spending $120 million for local school construction, the largest amount since 1976. He urged lawmakers to abolish their legislative scholarship program, through which they dispense state college aid directly to constituents. He also proposed giving schools in the University of Maryland System more power over hiring and purchasing decisions.
CRIME -- The governor wants to speed up death penalty appeals by reducing from two to one the number of appeals an inmate vTC can file. Another bill would allow police to issue citations, requiring community service, to juveniles stopped for minor offenses. He previously announced a proposal for $20 million in crime prevention grants, to be shared by Baltimore City and Prince George's and Montgomery counties.
ELECTION REFORM -- In the wake of Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey's claims of voting irregularities, the governor said he would work with the House Speaker on legislation to improve the election process. If the legislature doesn't enact reforms this session, Mr. Glendening said he would develop his own proposals next year.
CHILDREN -- Using federal and other money, 200 jobs would be added to the Child Support Enforcement Administration to help collect support payments from "deadbeat" parents. The governor also said he will appoint a task force to study ways Maryland can streamline the adoption process.