Gary pushes growth bills in Assembly Aggressive lobbying of county delegation riles some lawmakers

'He's ever-present'

Liquor licenses, trash, schools, tax districts on ambitious agenda

April 07, 1996|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

By all accounts, County Executive John G. Gary thundered around the State House this year, pushing an eclectic agenda with a clear message: Anne Arundel County must grow.

Moreover, he wants to be the one to control it.

The first-term Republican lobbied hard for chain restaurants to be allowed more than one liquor license. He orchestrated a brash gambit for school-board control. He pushed legislation that would have allowed him to charge trash-hauling companies for the privilege of doing business in a promising county. And he asked for the power to create special tax districts to help finance new infrastructure.

In doing so, Mr. Gary used the three-month General Assembly session to advance his program far more than his predecessors, riling the House delegation he was a part of for 12 years and leaving it in disarray.

"This is the agenda of a chief executive trying to grow his company," said Del. Marsha G. Perry, a Crofton Democrat and frequent critic of Mr. Gary's. "For an executive interested in changing the face of this county, this is an agenda that would be very important to him."

On six occasions, Mr. Gary attended Friday morning delegation meetings, at times braving foul weather and testifying in galoshes for his agenda.

He often came with packets of information for delegates, "propaganda" to his critics. When he didn't attend, the audience included six to eight top aides from the Arundel Center's fourth-floor executive suite.

After the 1995 session, a reporter asked Ms. Perry how John Gary had fared in the General Assembly his first year. Her response: "Who's John Gary?"

"I'm sorry I said that," she said last week. "The difference has been dramatic this year. He's ever-present."

But Anne Arundel's House delegation killed several key components of his pro-growth agenda. And the 13-member panel has a slim Republican majority.

The delegation doomed half of the eight bills most important to the administration.

Legislation imposing a "host fee" on trash haulers died in the Environmental Matters Committee after failing to win delegation endorsement. The revenue would have helped pay for residential growth. But industry lobbyists said the costs would be passed on to customers.

A bill that would have allowed large franchise restaurants to hold a second liquor license in the county met a similar fate in the Economic Matters Committee, despite Mr. Gary's hours negotiating a compromise with the county License Beverage Association.

County economic development officials called the measure a "tool" to attract restaurant chains, which serve as magnets for new industry. Legislators said it was one of the most heavily lobbied bills of the session.

"In my opinion, with his party in control, he didn't do very well," said Del. Joan Cadden, a Brooklyn Park Democrat. "That's very refreshing to me."

On the plus side for Mr. Gary, the delegation unanimously endorsed an administration-backed measure requiring the Board of Education to submit semiannual spending reports to the County Council. Critics call the bill, which passed the Senate last week, another tactic Mr. Gary is using to cow the school board.

The delegation also supported a measure allowing the county to create a quasi-private corporation to run its one golf course, as well as raise money for new recreation services to accommodate new residents. The bill was approved by the Senate and must be signed by the governor to become law.

And it helped Mr. Gary with his capital requests. Most notably, the languishing Wiley H. Bates High School project to convert the building into a community center will get at least $400,000 in start-up money and a promise of more.

"He's had a very good session," said Del. Phillip D. Bissett, an Edgewater Republican who sponsored much of the administration's legislation. "He's very familiar with the money process."

But Mr. Gary's season likely will be judged by the success or failure of one measure: a bill that would allow the county executive to appoint his own school board. The county's Senate delegation deadlocked on the bill late last week, making it unlikely any legislation will emerge before the session ends tomorrow.

The measure became the political centerpiece of the season for Anne Arundel County. And it will leave a fractious and fiercely partisan delegation as a legacy regardless of its outcome.

The bill's opponents argued that a Gary-appointed panel would allow developers to over-build county neighborhoods where schools are already overcrowded and open up South County for new homes. The board, now appointed by the governor, has traditionally had a slow-growth character.

After heavy pressure from parent-teacher groups, Mr. Bissett pulled the measure from the delegation realizing he didn't have the votes to pass it. He substituted legislation that would keep the appointment power with the governor, which won a delegation vote during an impromptu meeting in the State House lounge.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.