Local lawmakers back in session in Annapolis

Lawmakers are back at work for the 436th session of the Maryland General Assembly, which began Wednesday.

They’re back in Annapolis with Gov. Larry Hogan, whose successful battle with cancer has been an inspiration to others.

“He’s healthy. He’s been rarin’ to go and full steam ahead,” said an enthusiastic Delegate Mary Beth Carozza, a Worcester Republican.

Delegate Carl Anderton said he greatly admires Hogan, who he called “tenacious in a way that makes you laugh.”

“He’s a total champ. Those are the people I want to be around. They make me want to be better,” said Anderton, a Wicomico Republican.

Both he and Carozza are looking forward to the session, with Carozza planning to make her primary focus the budget and keeping spending in check.

She praised Hogan for promising to keep Maryland’s fiscal house in order and beginning to reduce the structural deficit.

A Jan. 7 news release from Hogan’s office states his FY 2017 operating budget will total $17.1 billion and include a Rainy Day Fund of $1.1 billion and cash balance of $445 million going into FY 2018.

“In 2015, the Hogan administration inherited $5.1 billion in accumulated structural deficits, including a $2.1 billion deficit in 2015 and 2016. Over the course of the last year, almost 90 percent of that inherited $5.1 billion deficit has been eliminated. The governor’s proposed budget will continue to build on this progress and provide for sound fiscal management in future years,” it states.

Budget highlights include:

*Funding for every General Assembly statutory spending obligation

*$400 million in tax and fee relief to an estimated 1 million Maryland citizens and to more than 300,000 small businesses during the next five years

*Funding for 100 percent of education spending increases based on formulas set by the legislature

*$6.3 billion for K-12 education

*$314 million for new school construction projects

*$231 million in highway user revenues, and

*$7.3 billion aid to local governments.

“The biggest thing is the budget,” Anderton said.

“The only thing we are mandated to do in Annapolis is pass the budget, so that is first and foremost. The governor has come out with a spending plan and set a spending limit at less than some of my colleagues in the legislature hoped for.

“I understand setting it lower because you are trying to stop using the so-called credit card that has been used so much over the past few years …  but it makes bringing state funds home a lot more difficult and a much tougher challenge than it was in the previous administration. In the past 10 years if you wanted something, you just went and got it. Now you have to really work for it,” Anderton said.

He has met with local leaders and said he’ll take their requests to Annapolis, although they might have to be pared down.

Anderton said he likes Salisbury Mayor Jake Day’s approach to working with county leaders, at their pace, because cooperation is the best way to get results.

Concerning school construction, he said requested state funding for a new West Salisbury Elementary School was taken off the list because of indecision on the local level about whether to renovate or replace the aging structure.

“Now they want to rebuild it. The state said they didn’t know what the county wanted to do, so they said, ‘We will bump you out.’ We’ll get back in line. It’s not dead. It’s not dead at all,” he said.

Carozza expects discussion in Annapolis about having a referendum, to allow Wicomico County voters to decide if they want an elected, appointed or hybrid school board.

“There is a draft bill I will review this week. I will work closely with county officials. Our job is to move forward to allow the county to have the referendum vote,” she said.

She plans to continue work, from last year, on setting up savings accounts for the disabled, modeled for college savings account programs, and will follow up on her veterans’ business law. It allows more veteran-owned businesses get state contracts.

There’s an initiative with state Sen. Jim Mathias, a Worcester Democrat, to name February, or another month, “Sportsmanship Month,” to promote good sportsmanship across the state.

Poultry and agriculture are major issues, Anderton said.

Perdue Farms is using more natural methods and has started to grow bigger birds that will require flocks to stay in growing houses longer, said Anderton.

“So, we have to constantly upgrade farms and sometimes rebuild the chicken houses,” he said, adding decisions should be made on the local level.

“That’s why we elect our County Council members, to take care of those things,” Anderton said.

“I am not a fan of the large 13-house mega chicken farm, especially if they don’t live on the property. If they live there, that’s different. But I want to see hard numbers. Are there only 13 in the county or are more coming with them?

“I’m trying to position myself where I can educate my friends across the bridge about our way of life. There are many differences between Montgomery County and Wicomico County and I think we have done a good job of educating them about Wicomico.

“We elected the county executive and the County Council to look at land use. It shouldn’t be the state doing it,” he said.

He mentioned Delegate Chris Adams, a Wicomico Republican who wants to see counties decide if sprinklers should be required in new homes, instead of having it state mandated. “He wants local control. That’s what it’s about, local control,” Anderton said.

Other legislative items are a proposal to expand Evolution Craft Brewing Co. and a request to build a distillery that would create a dozen or so jobs. “There will probably be legislation for that this, or next, session,” he said.

Anderton complimented his colleagues, calling them “a great group of legislators.”

“Everybody has certain things they excel at … I am full service, comprehensive. My forte is whatever it takes to make the counties thrive,” he said.

“Everybody is ready to work together. There is no dander up. The relationships that have formed naturally are with some really good people serving in Annapolis.  Everybody wants the same thing. We just have different ways of doing it.”

 

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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