Governor, Cabinet urge delegation to soften impact of federal cuts


WASHINGTON -- Gloomily conceding that the Republican-controlled Congress will redeem its pledge to rein in federal spending, Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday urged the Maryland delegation to use its limited clout to cushion the blow to the state's budget.

With most of his Cabinet in tow, the governor made a pitch for education funding, environmental programs and Medicaid spending for the poor and elderly.

"I know that the political winds have shifted in America and the states are going to receive substantially less money," Mr. Glendening said. "But Maryland simply cannot afford to pick up all the pieces in terms of the federal cuts."

Meanwhile, officials announced that the Clinton administration has agreed to help build a 13-mile extension of the Maryland Rail Commuter service (MARC) line from Point of Rocks to Frederick if it can get the funds from Congress.

Now, Frederick commuters who use the rail line, which runs from Martinsburg, W. Va., to Washington, must ride a bus to Point of Rocks.

The administration also has agreed to help pay for 59 new cars, six locomotives and maintenance equipment for the MARC system, which also operates commuter lines to Washington from Camden Station in Baltimore and from Perryville.

Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes called the agreement a "major step forward" but made it clear that the harder task will be to secure funding.

Maryland, with other states, has been waiting for Congress to finish work on the budget. Mr. Glendening and the General Assembly set aside $250 million this year to help cover the expected slowdown in the growth of federal aid and to pay for a state income tax cut down the road.

The governor offered few firm projections of how Maryland would be hurt by the congressional budget plans. However, he predicted that the state could end up making painful choices between, for example, education spending for children and health care for the elderly.

Left unsaid was the political reality that Maryland's congressional delegation will have little impact on the final outcome of the budget.

Both Maryland senators and four of the eight representatives are Democrats in a Republican-controlled Congress. And of the four Republicans, only one, moderate Constance A. Morella of Montgomery County, has significant seniority.

However, Ms. Morella often is philosophically out-of-step with the conservative House leadership.

Yesterday's meeting took place on a busy day on Capitol Hill. The result was that only two of the state's 10 lawmakers -- Mr. Sarbanes and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski -- heard much of Mr. Glendening's presentation.

At one point, state health Secretary Martin P. Wasserman stood poised to address 10 empty chairs. "Story of my life," he deadpanned to gubernatorial and congressional aides. Rep. Kweisi Mfume, a Baltimore Democrat, rescued him by sliding into his chair and announcing, "I'm here."

Dr. Wasserman said he is concerned about plans to trim the growth in the Medicaid health-care program and convert it to a block-grant program for the states.

Expected congressional restraints on the growth of Medicaid, he said, would mean a cut in services because of demand and cost increases.

"That means I won't be able to immunize children at the same level or offer the same level of nursing support services," Dr. Wasserman said. "I think it will be a disaster."

Glancing at the lone Republican present at the time, freshman Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich of Baltimore County, Ms. Mikulski said Congress needed to hear in "human terms" about the impact of its budget plans.

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