3 Legislators Have Key Roles On Deficit, Budget, Abortion

Crucial Issues On Tap For Upcoming Session

January 09, 1991|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff writer

Three Carroll General Assembly legislators will play key roles in helping determine the outcome of crucial issues -- the current budget deficit, next year's budget and abortion rights -- in the 1991 session.

Delegate Lawrence A. LaMotte, D-Carroll, Baltimore, said he willbe a House leader in drafting and supporting an abortion-rights billthat will closely resemble the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

The landmark ruling gave women a constitutional right to choose an abortion. Abortion-rights advocates fear the Supreme Court could overturn that decision, allowing states to enact restrictive legislation.

Sen. Charles H. Smelser, D-Carroll, Frederick, Howard, and Delegate Richard N. Dixon, D-Carroll, serve on committees which will worktoward balancing the fiscal 1991 budget and shaping what is expectedto be a lean fiscal 1992 spending plan.

Other high-priority issues include growth-control and tax-reform proposals, a possible gas taxincrease and redistricting.

Here's what Carroll's six-member delegation says about the anticipated top issues:

Abortion: LaMotte said he is "probably the most logical" delegate to help lead the fight for passage of abortion-rights legislation, since he was "working behind the scenes" during last year's abortion battle fiasco. He said heexpects to replace a sponsor of last year's abortion-rights bill whowas elected to the Senate.

Last year, a Senate compromise after eight grueling days of debate was killed by a House committee, leavingthe issue unresolved.

"Voters want it resolved," said LaMotte. "They made that clear in the election. Legislators want it out of theirhair." Any decision made this year likely would be placed on the 1992 ballot as a referendum question, he said.

Sen. Larry E. Haines, R-Carroll, Baltimore, who opposes abortion, said the Senate might have enough anti-abortion legislators to block a bill as it did last year.

1990-1991 budget deficit: Smelser, a member of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, said legislators will be occupied immediately with making further cuts to trim the state's estimated $423 million deficit.

The state Board of Public Works, which has offered a plan to balance the budget, has authority to mandate some cuts, but many of the proposed measures must be approved by the legislature.

"When you talk about cutting . . . we have to be the bad guys," Smelsersaid.

Maryland law requires the state to have a balanced budget.

Fiscal 1992 budget: Because of the sluggish economy and downturn in revenues, Carroll legislators expect no increase from this year's $11.7 billion budget. That means new programs likely won't be introduced, some services could suffer and capital projects could be deferred, they say.

"In my years, I always saw the budget increase through natural growth," said Dixon, whose Appropriations Committee will work on the governor's submitted budget before sending it to the Senate. "It's a different situation this year. It's going to require major adjustments in the budget."

LaMotte said he wants tough budget decisions to reflect a philosophical statement that cuts "won't put people's lives and health at risk."

Haines agreed, adding that the state's education budget also should not be compromised.

Delegate Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll, Howard, said state government is too largeand should be cut to save money. He advocates auditing every state department to detect wasteful spending.

Growth controls: Carroll delegates vary in their opinions on recommendations proposed by the Governor's Commission on Growth in the Chesapeake Bay Region. The panel was charged with establishing guidelines to curtail sprawling development, channeling growth to population centers and protecting natural resources.

Carroll planners and others throughout the state have objected to the recommendations, saying they infringe on local governments' powers to plan and regulate land use.

LaMotte said he believes many officials at the local level have overreacted, noting that the state can delegate land-use authority to smaller jurisdictions and take it back.

"It's totally a power fight," he said. "It has nothing to do with the environment or the recommendations. The fact is, environmental problems do not end at a county line. They must be dealt with at a minimum on a regional basis, and preferably, on a state basis."

Haines, Dixon and Elliott said the state should not interferewith local jurisdictions' land-use plans. Haines said that the proposals could have an adverse impact on property equity and unfairly restrict development rights.

Most of the delegates agree that the recommendations probably won't be passed this year, partly because of more pressing economic problems. But Delegate Richard C. Matthews, R-Carroll, doesn't rule out the possibility.

"If the governor gets twoor three large (political) subdivisions on his side, it might be a hard thing to stop," he said.

Taxes: The report from the Maryland Commission on State Taxes and Tax Structure, also known as the LinowesCommission, has received mostly negative reviews from Carroll delegates.

The commission has recommended restructuring the state's tax system to make taxation and distribution of receipts more equitable. The proposal includes recommendations for some new and expanded taxes, which would generate an estimated $800 million for the coming fiscal year alone.

Several Carroll delegates said the legislature should not pass any tax increases this year because of the state's depressed economy.

"Taxes aren't a relevant issue in a year of a budget deficit," said Dixon. "We need to cut government spending."

Haines agreed: "An increase in taxes is not the answer," he said.

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