ANNAPOLIS — About the only surprise to come out of last week's General Assembly special session was the news that up to $3 million for highways couldmake its way to the county before summer's end.
In passing higherMotor Vehicle Administration fees Wednesday, the House of Delegates and Senate guaranteed at least $300 million statewide in federal highway grants, a move that gives the green light to more than $47 million worth of roads projects on hold since last fall.
Of the stalled projects, a $2 million resurfacing of Route 194 near Taneytown, the $750,000 repair of the Little Pipe Creek Bridge along Route 75 in Union Bridge, and a $100,000 improvement of the intersection of routes 97 and 32 are expected to get the go-ahead, said Sen. Larry E. Haines, R-Carroll, Baltimore.
"At least these projects can now go forward," he said.
The freshman senator voted in favor of the higher MVA fees, which increase the cost of more than 60 services such as the drivers license fee, which will rise from $6 to $20.
Apart from those roads projects, the county -- and most of the rest of the state -- came up empty-handed after Wednesday's four-hour session at the State House.
"Whenever the state tells us Carroll is going to get something, you just can't ever believe them," said Delegate Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll, Howard.
In addition to raising close to $40 million as a result of the higher motor vehicle charges, the legislators also closed a $109 million gap in the budget that expires today. But in closing the fiscal year with a balanced budget, the assembly had to clean out the state's $31 million Program Open Space and take nearly $5 million out of housing assistance programs.
Program Open Space, the state's 22-year-old park land-acquisition program, commits state money to regional projects. Counties and municipalities proceed
with the projects and pay for them only after the state agrees to reimburse the costs.
The Open Space money -- some $550,000 of it designated for projects in Carroll towns -- was especially hard for some county and municipal leaders to lose because it was to be given to jurisdictions in the form of reimbursements for projects already completed.
"No man's life, liberty or property is safe when the General Assembly is in session," quipped Delegate Charles J.Ryan, D-Prince George's, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
Program Open Space's budget for the year beginning tomorrow has been slashed considerably, with less than $9 million set aside to pay for projects.
The budget-balancing and the MVA measures passedboth houses with relative ease.
The budget-balancing bill sets aside $125 million and has provisions for returning any excess money tothe Open Space program should the deficit be no higher than the expected $109 million. It passed the House by a vote of 125-8 and the Senate by 44-2.
Carroll's six-member delegation voted in favor of themeasures.
The MVA fee bill passed the Senate by a vote of 35-10, with Haines and Sen. Charles H. Smelser, D-Carroll, Frederick, Howard, voting for the bill.
In the House, the measure passed by 109-23,with Carroll's four delegates voting against it.
"We're passing this bill in a vacuum," said Delegate Lawrence A. LaMotte, D-Carroll, Baltimore. "We are not passing this as part of any rational transportation policy."
The MVA bill gives the agency leeway in setting future fees as
long as those fees amount to only 85 percent of its expenses. By raising the fees, money taken from the state's Transportation Trust Fund to subsidize MVA operations can be returned to the fund.
The round of budget cuts marks the fifth time the General Assembly has had to trim the 1991 spending plan.
The total cut from thebudget now amounts to about $675 million, and fiscal experts are predicting that deficits of up to $500 million over the next two fiscal years are possible.
"The constitution requires that we have a balanced budget," said Delegate Richard N. Dixon, D-Carroll. "We had to vote for it."
As for the predictions of higher deficits in the years to come, Dixon and others are taking a wait-and-see approach beforethey say what the General Assembly will have to do for next year's session.
"We can't predict what we're going to face in the next couple of years," said Elliott. "But one thing is absolutely true. Thereare inefficiencies in government that should be looked at and eliminated, especially when we know there is fat in our state government."
STATE CUTS JEOPARDIZE PROJECTS
Project. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Location . . . Status*. Cost
Mayor Property Acquisition. . . . . Union Mills . . P'ding $148,000
Hampstead Valley Open Space. . .. .Hampstead. . . OK'd 19,857
Chief Sites Memorial Park. . . . . . .Hampstead. . . .OK'd 14,175
N. Carroll Farms Rec. Area. . . . .Hampstead. . . .OK'd 12,938
Pine Valley Park Acquisition . . . . Manchester. . . Pending 16,222
Jogging Path at Watkins Park. . . .Mount Airy. . . OK'd 30,375
Hiker Train at Watkins Park. . . . . .Mount Airy. . . OK'd 9,000
War Memorial Park. . . . . . . . . . .New Windsor. . .OK'd 9,000
Blacktop lanes to ball fields. . . . .New Windsor. . .OK'd 9,000
Burkett Ballfield, Lex. Run Tot lot. .Sykesville. .. OK'd 14,063
Riverfront Park. . . . . . . . . . . Sykesville. . . OK'd 16,222
Union Bridge Park. . . . . . . . . . UnionBridge. . OK'd 14,914
Pool shelter. . . . . . . . . . . . . Westminster. . Pending 15,000
Pool tot lot. . . . . . . . . . . . . Westminster. . Pending 11,250
King Park parking lot. . . . . . . . Westminster. . Pending 15,000
Bishop/Center Street park. . . . . . Westminster. . Pending 11,250
*Projects only will be financed if they get state Board of Public Works approval and the state's deficit is less than $125 million
SOURCE: General Assembly, Md. Associationof Counties, Md. Municipal League