In September, four months before the 2017 Maryland Legislative Session began, Salisbury officials hosted a luncheon for the Eastern Shore Delegation to talk about the city’s requests.
“We asked them to support anything the governor puts in for Downtown Salisbury. We are waiting on the governor to see if he’s going to participate in our Downtown projects,” Mayor Jake Day told the Salisbury Independent.
“We had a specific request for specific financial support. Hagerstown got $7 million for its Downtown and we are asking for something similar,” Day said.
Delegate Carl Anderton confirmed the city of Hagerstown was given a commitment letter for $7 million.
As the state’s 437th session of the General Assembly began Wednesday, Anderton said his priorities include seeing that the Main Street Master Plan is funded.
“We want that funding to help make up for the lack of highway user revenues, cut in 2009. I sat down with the mayor and we figured the city lost over $6 million to $7 million during that time period,” Anderton said.
Anderton said the local government “is the biggest piece” of the Master Plan, which he described as a “$200 million public-private joint venture to add more commercial, retail and residential space downtown.”
“It’s the vision of the mayor and the city. All I can do is act as a conduit between their vision and the administration, the governor, to put those pieces together and see if we can make it work,” Anderton said.
Gov. Larry Hogan is interested in the project, Anderton said, but he has $15 million available for funding and more than $170 million in requests.
Still, Anderton said he will continue lobbying for funding, as he has been since June.
“I have been speaking with people all summer about it and I am hoping to have good news,” Anderton said.
Delegate Sheree Sample-Hughes said she is “absolutely in favor” of funding for the Master Plan. “I want to see it through,” she said.
The budget, as usual will be an all-consuming issue in the now under way session.
Delegate Mary Beth Carozza, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said she will be involved with the state budget, which has a $209 million deficit. The projected shortfall for FY18 is $544 million, Carozza said.
Last year, Maryland’s budget was $42.3 billion.
“We will face a tough budget climate but my expectation is Gov. (Larry) Hogan will, as he has in past sessions, introduce a sound budget that will adequately fund education and other Shore priorities,” Carozza said.
Delegate Chris Adams blamed the deficit on too much spending.
“Last year you had a legislature that wanted to take extra money and spend it. The Hogan administration was pushing for spending reforms last year and the legislature did the exact opposite and passed $300 million in new General Fund mandated spending. Past governors have tried tax hikes or fee increases. Gov. Hogan has inherited a lot of those policies that really hurt the state,” he said.
“The Hogan administration can’t just not fund mandated spending. When the legislature says, ‘We’re going to spend X amount of dollars on new spending,’ it’s not the Hogan administration doing that. The administration is forced by statute to spend that money. Thank goodness we have a governor who has a business background,” he said.
Sample-Hughes said the deficit has to be looked at in relation to needs.
“We often don’t think about the capital projects we need to see started or completed,” she said, adding she has bond bills, some that relate to the needs of those with disabilities.
Road Kill Bill
Among bills expected to make headlines this year is the Transportation Scoring Bill, known as the Road Kill Bill, legislation that would “fundamentally change” the current transportation scoring system, Carozza said.
“The secretary of transportation and his team would come and meet in every jurisdiction across the state to work with elected officials and local communities on transportation projects in their area.
“This new transportation scoring formula now gives priority to urban, more populated, areas with more focus on transit projects, which then puts in jeopardy highway projects that we have prioritized across the Shore and across the state,” Carozza explained.
During the 2016 legislative session, Hogan vetoed the bill. Carozza supported that veto but it was overridden.
If passed, the bill would cancel all but seven major transportation projects, including work on the Route 50 Bridge going into Ocean City, Route 589 in Ocean Pines and Route 404, which Carozza said is a major artery into Ocean City.
“We definitely need our roads,” said Sample-Hughes, who didn’t support the bill.
“I didn’t believe it was beneficial on the Eastern Shore. It should be an open process involving the citizens,” she said.
Anderton called the bill “detrimental to our opportunities to improving to our infrastructure on the Shore.”
Paid Sick Leave Bill
Small businesses are concerned about the Paid Sick Leave Bill, which would require them to provide paid sick leave to employees.
It nearly passed last year and would have been devastating to small businesses, Carozza said.
“The bill is a priority for certain constituencies. Gov. Hogan introduced a Paid Sick Leave Bill to address concerns raised in the last session and his bill applies to businesses that have 50 or more employees. That’s the same number of employees stipulated in the Federal Leave Act,” she said.
Hogan’s bill also provides tax relief for businesses with fewer than 50 employees that provide sick leave.
Adams said although “the government has tried to get the state to pass the number of days” of sick leave that would be granted, most businesses handle the issue independently and should be trusted to do so.
“The Maryland Legislature continues to want to regulate the relationship between the employee and the employer but that is already something that is recognized,” he said.
Carozza plans to introduce an Animal Cruelty Relief Bill that would make it a felony to abuse or neglect 10 or more animals
Career Technology Education
True to her interest in education, Carozza has been attending Innovation in Excellence and Education Commission meetings, with the goal of ensuring fairness of education funding formulas for Shore counties.
She gave the example of Worcester County, which contributes the most of any county at the local level for education but receives the least amount back from the state.
“You want to make sure these funding formulas are fair to the rural areas. I want to make sure we have accountability measures in place since the majority of our state dollars go toward education and I am focused on career technology and the trades,” she said.
Effect of new presidency
President-elect Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th U.S. president on Jan. 20, just as the legislative session begins, and his policies will likely benefit Marylanders, Adams said.
“Right off the bat Marylanders will see an administration that will, federally, have a new president who will cut taxes and regulations will be lightened. It’s safe to say we can anticipate the economy will perform very well over the next few years because of change in policy,” Adams said.
“The employment situation will improve drastically on the Shore and in Wicomico County. Our businesses will benefit from increased economic activity. People will have more money in their pockets. It’s been a long time on the Eastern Shore. You have to go back to prior to 2008, when the economy was doing well here,” he said.
Anderton said he hopes if Trump upgrades the military, as he has promised, it will bring more jobs to the Shore.
But Sample-Hughes said one of her main concerns is affordable health care and how “changes at the federal level will affect that.”
Concerning women’s health, Sample-Hughes said she has talked to doctors who told her many of their patients started making long-term decisions about birth control months ago because of their concern about what will happen.
“They are trying to make decisions now and that has been on the rise,” she said.
Anderton will begin the session grateful that Perdue Farms officials invited his committee to visit poultry farms in recent months.
“That will pay dividends this winter, so instead of my colleagues having to go by pictures of farms, they will have a real experience. That will be extremely beneficial,” he said.
Although it is now only speculation, Anderton said he has heard a chicken tax and the Poultry Litter Management Act could be discussed again this year.
“There may be a bill to try and have a moratorium on poultry house construction. We won’t know for sure until the session gets going,” he said.
Meantime, he is “looking at a couple bills,” including one that would make it a criminal offense to make a threat against a police officer or his or her family.
Another is making a high-speed chase a more serious crime that a misdemeanor, which it is now.
But Anderton said he doesn’t submit bills haphazardly because each bill costs up to $2,000, including lawyer fees to perfect the wording, and he is careful with taxpayers’ money.
Last year, 3,000 bills were submitted and only 800 passed. “We could have paved a lot of roads with that amount of money,” Anderton said.
“We’re going to hit the ground running this year,” Anderton said.
“The cool thing about this group of legislators is, we all have different priorities. We put them all together and we pretty much have everybody covered. We are so diverse in our thinking that it’s like a patchwork quilt and it covers everybody.”
Reach Susan Canfora at firstname.lastname@example.org.