Good Session for Howard HOWARD COUNTY

April 16, 1993

Despite a few setbacks, the Howard County legislative delegation scored more than its share of victories in the just-concluded session of the Maryland General Assembly.

Of the state's 24 subdivisions, the county received one of the largest increases in overall aid for the coming fiscal year. Projects that won funding include a much-needed expansion of parking facilities at the District Court in Ellicott City and repairs to historic Carroll Baldwin Hall in Savage.

Among the five Howard bills passed by the legislature, one requires a juror to hear only one trial or serve in a jury pool for just one day rather than undergo the eight-day wait previously demanded. Another law creates a new Economic Development Authority for the jurisdiction. County Executive Charles I. Ecker views this agency as an important tool in his plan -- outlined last January in his State of the County speech -- to encourage commercial growth so that more of the local tax burden can be shifted from citizens to businesses.

Yet there were defeats as well. The delegation was unable to push through legislation that would have helped shed light on the relationships between local developers and county officials. In addition, delegation requests of $1 million for an agricultural center and $250,000 for a drug and alcohol halfway house at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital were denied by the Assembly.

The largely Republican Howard delegation also claimed victory for passing a bill that places obstacles in the way of county officials who might seek to raise the local piggyback income tax. In the past, the tax could be increased simply by a resolution of three of the five members of the County Council. Now it will require a 4-1 vote of the council and the county executive's signature. A four-member majority on the council could overturn an executive veto.

This is a bad law. While it will please the delegation's conservative constituents, it could haunt county officials in the future when they seek to raise needed funds but are frustrated by the hurdles erected by this measure. It also will force officials to rely too heavily on the property tax.

Still, for Howard County, it was a legislative session with more successes than failures. Delegation members and the citizens they represent should be glad about that.

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