An assembly of successes


THE 2000 GENERAL Assembly session was one of our most productive and successful in recent memory. Working together, the legislature and the Glendening-Townsend administration implemented prudent, farsighted measures that will improve the quality of life for families in every corner of Maryland.

Given our incredible successes, The Sun was clearly sleeping in class when it prepared its recent "report card," which ignored some of our greatest accomplishments and distorted the results of other actions. The issues that dominated the past 90 days were ones we took to the Maryland voters in the last election. In the end, it is their grade that matters, and they have told us that we made the investments and kept the commitments that count.

The Sun noted a few of those major accomplishments -- a significant expansion of children's health care, new standards for senior citizen and nursing home care and nationally recognized leadership to make handguns safer. We also took historic steps, however, to protect children's health and safety, build the infrastructure for the knowledge-based economy, improve the quality of education in our schools, and make long-term investments in our infrastructure and our people.

Our budgets were fiscally prudent and socially responsible: They maintained our priorities, paid for many onetime expenditures up front and set aside hundreds of millions as a hedge against a possible economic downturn. At the same time, we passed meaningful tax relief, eliminating the anachronistic inheritance tax for spouses, children and siblings, and saving Marylanders nearly $100 million over the next five years.

We moved aggressively to ensure health and safety. In addition to expanding the children's health program, we enacted a bold initiative to invest Maryland's tobacco settlement into a focused, thorough plan to combat cancer and cut youth smoking in half. This effort will save thousands of lives and make Maryland a national leader in the battle against smoking, addiction and tobacco-related diseases.

In another groundbreaking effort, we passed a comprehensive package of technology initiatives which build a framework for Maryland's leadership in the new economy. Our e-commerce initiatives provide legal recognition to contracts and signatures on-line, protect the intellectual capital of software companies, offer safeguards to our families, and move to establish a business and technology division in the state's circuit courts.

To prepare our children for the emerging knowledge-based economy, we made historic investments to modernize schools, classrooms and higher education facilities. To help parents save for college, we guaranteed the cost of a prepaid tuition at a Maryland public college or university, and created a new savings program for room, board and other expenses.

We are making an unprecedented $3.3 billion investment in the quality of public education. This year, we focused on the most critical challenge facing our schools: ensuring that the best and brightest teachers remain in Maryland classrooms. To address the looming teacher shortage, we passed the "Governor's Challenge" to raise teachers' salaries by 10 percent, increased the Maryland Teacher Scholarship to $5,000 annually, and approved a new low-interest mortgage loan program for teachers to purchase their first home. These efforts will give a dramatic boost to our efforts to find 11,000 new teachers in the next two years.

Our hard work on these issues -- our statewide list of priorities -- produced a solid record of accomplishment, for which we are extremely proud. The Sun's report card completely ignored these achievements. Even when it judged the session based on its own narrow list of priorities, though, The Sun was simply wrong.

The Sun challenged our commitment to Baltimore City in two specific areas -- education and drug treatment. But in both cases, extraordinary needs are being met by an extraordinary investment. Next year, Baltimore City schools will receive more than half a billion dollars in state aid -- $5,986 for every student, up more than $2,000 per child since 1995. And drug treatment funding received a record-shattering increase statewide, with Baltimore City receiving 57 percent more in just one year.

Similar record-breaking statewide increases went to pressing needs in juvenile justice and transportation. Juvenile justice funding was increased by $27.2 million to jump-start reforms endorsed by overwhelming bipartisan votes and to ensure swift implementation. We also worked together on an incredible legacy for Maryland's transportation future, investing a fully funded and precedent-setting 43 percent increase to build roads, bridges, mass transit and Smart Growth projects.

Legislators and voters agree: The 2000 session was a phenomenal success, both for today's Marylanders and for future generations. Unfortunately, The Sun missed the point and did a disservice to its readers and the people of Maryland by issuing an inadequate summary of a historic 90 days.

Parris N. Glendening is governor of Maryland; Casper R. Taylor Jr. is speaker of the House of Delegates; and Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. is state Senate president.

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