Uncertainty looms over legislators Dixon, front-runner for treasurer's post, to leave local vacancy

Successor in question

Local bills package to send to Annapolis yet to be approved

January 07, 1996|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,SUN STAFF

Carroll County's two senators and four delegates will arrive in Annapolis this week with more than legislation on their minds.

The big question looming over the delegation is who will replace Del. Richard N. Dixon, a Westminster Democrat who is expected to replace retiring state Treasurer Lucille Maurer.

"It's exciting," said Sen. Larry E. Haines, a Westminster Republican who chairs Carroll's delegation. "We're really happy about this. I hope and pray Richard is successful in this effort. I am just really pleased that the [likely] treasurer is going to be someone from Carroll County."

Mr. Dixon, a stockbroker and former school board member who was first elected to the House of Delegates in 1982, is the apparent front-runner to succeed Mrs. Maurer, who announced her resignation last week, citing illness.

The treasurer is expected to be elected by the General Assembly by the end of this month. House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., an Allegany County Democrat, supports Mr. Dixon in his bid for the post.

Mr. Haines said Mr. Dixon could easily win election with support of the Republican bloc -- an endorsement he had in his unsuccessful bid last year -- and the Legislative Black Caucus.

With Mr. Dixon's departure from the delegation, however, the county loses its most powerful legislator.

Mr. Dixon is chairman of the Appropriations Committee's capital budget subcommittee, which controls construction money and bond sales for schools and other projects in the state.

Political observers, however, contend that the county's loss is offset by Mr. Dixon's rise to a constitutional office.

"We're not so much losing a member of the Appropriations Committee -- we would be gaining someone in one of the state's premier constitutional offices," said Greg Pecoraro, a Democratic Central Committee member.

The state treasurer serves as one of three members of the Board of Public Works, which authorizes state spending on most capital improvements, including public school construction.

"We expect that Richard Dixon won't be parochial. But at the same time, we can be assured that the state treasurer will have a special place in his heart for Carroll County," Mr. Pecoraro said.

"To have somebody in Carroll County with such enormous power can't help but be good for the county. It raises our profile in state politics."

Mr. Pecoraro said the central committee will interview candidates and make a recommendation to the governor, who will appoint someone to serve out the remaining three years of Mr. Dixon's term.

Mr. Pecoraro said the committee plans to ask the House speaker to assign Mr. Dixon's successor to the Appropriations Committee.

Mr. Dixon, the county's only elected Democrat, said he plans to announce his choice for a successor at a Carroll County Democratic Club meeting tomorrow night.

A conservative Democrat would make the most electable candidate for the 1998 election, he said.

Although the General Assembly session starts Wednesday, the county delegation has yet to approve a package of local bills. The legislators will hold a public hearing on the County Commissioners' proposals at 9 a.m. Jan. 27 at the County Office Building in Westminster.

The most controversial proposals are:

* A measure that would give the commissioners veto power over the planning commission, a radical departure from the current development approval process. Only Commissioner Richard T. Yates proposed this measure, saying he wants the commissioners to have this authority because they stand accountable for any decisions made by an appointed board.

* A proposal for a referendum to allow county voters to decide whether to initiate a 1 percent real estate transfer tax. Revenue from the tax -- estimated at about $2.5 million annually -- would be split between agricultural preservation and infrastructure improvements.

"I am totally opposed to that legislation," Mr. Haines said. "I always wait to hear the public debate, but as far new taxes or tax increases, I think the public debate took place in November 1994. [Republican gubernatorial candidate Ellen] Sauerbrey got 72 percent of the vote in Carroll County. I think the people said they want no new taxes."

Mr. Haines said his opposition might not be shared by the rest of the delegation.

Mr. Haines and Sen. Tim Ferguson, a Taylorsville Republican who represents both Carroll and Frederick counties, are the only local lawmakers who have filed bills. Mr. Haines has filed four and Mr. Ferguson has filed 18.

Most of Mr. Haines' bills are measures he introduced in the last session. Among them are proposals to cut the capital gains tax in half for the first $50,000 annually for individuals and corporations; strengthen penalties for marijuana smuggling; and allow Carroll to collect recordation fees directly instead of paying the state a 5 percent fee to collect them.

Mr. Ferguson's bills include measures to limit state legislative terms; limit the cost of mandates to school boards; prohibit lawyers from soliciting clients within 30 days of their involvement in an accident or tragedy; and allow weapons in public schools for historical demonstrations.

"There are many concerns that will be debated this year. Casino gambling, gun control and VEIP [Vehicle Emission Inspection Program] are very controversial," Mr. Ferguson said in a statement.

"Those three contentious issues will come through my Judicial Proceedings Committee. I'll be very busy in committee work and felt that the bulk of my bills should be drafted and pre-filed before I start the session," his statement read.

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