SOLOMONS -- Gov. Parris N. Glendening tried last night to reassure nervous local officials that his proposed income tax cut and spending initiatives will not force a reduction in aid to local governments.
Rather, he told a gathering of the Maryland Association of Counties, state aid to local governments will continue to grow as expected despite the drop in state revenue.
"Under our fiscal plan, local aid will increase more than 5 percent annually over the next three years," Glendening said. "We will continue to fully fund local aid programs."
Even as he was trying to dispel doubts about his spending plans, the governor announced another new budget initiative -- a plan to spend $170 million over the next five years to preserve some 90,000 acres of open space and combat suburban sprawl.
Some legislators have criticized Glendening for pushing such initiatives -- including an expansion of health care for pregnant women and young children, pay raises for state troopers, and a new scholarship program -- at the same time he is backing a 10 percent cut in the state income tax.
State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller lashed out at the governor this week, calling his spending plans "pie in the sky" and comparing Glendening's philosophy to former Louisiana Gov. Huey Long's "every man a king" refrain.
Glendening last night responded diplomatically to Miller's front-page blast, saying he attributed the senator's remarks to "his having a rough day."
The governor said he told Miller in a phone call yesterday that he remains confident he can find enough money in Maryland's $15 billion budget to pay for his initiatives.
"Our tax program is totally balanced," Glendening said in an interview.
He previously has said he would offset revenue lost through an income tax cut by doubling Maryland's 36-cents-a-pack cigarette tax, tapping state reserve funds and making unspecified budget cuts.
The governor suggested that Miller and other critics are raising doubts about his fiscal plan to generate support for legalizing casino-style gambling and the revenue it would produce for the state.
"These critics, some of whom I know and love, say that in order to pay for this, we need to allow slot machines and gambling in this state," the governor told the group. "I absolutely disagree."
Miller said this week that the state should legalize slot machines so that Marylanders won't take their money to other states.
Some county leaders said last night they were happy to hear the governor's promises.
"He's given us his assurance that this tax cut is not going to affect local aid," said Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan.
Duncan said that the real test for Glendening will be four years from now when the tax cut is fully phased in.
"It's not next year or the year after that," Duncan said. "It's the fourth year. What will be the impact on local aid then?"
In his address, Glendening outlined his plan to expand the state's role in preserving farmland, forested land and open space.
A chunk of the $170 million needed to buy easements on the land -- which would keep it from being developed -- would come from state funds that have been earmarked for such purchases in the past, but were diverted for other budget needs in recent years.
The state also would borrow some of the money for the program by selling bonds, officials said.
The proposal is part of a package of initiatives the governor is expected to introduce in the General Assembly session that begins next month.
Pub Date: 12/06/96