'Show me the money' is cry of legislators

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January 11, 1998|By MIKE BURNS

WITH ALL THAT surplus money in the state budget, about $260 million, legislators are looking for a way to use it so that voters will remember them come the fall elections.

Carroll's Sen. Larry E. Haines is talking about accelerating the state income-tax reduction plan enacted last year, reaching a 10 percent rate decrease in three years instead of five years. It's moving toward early bipartisan support on the Senate side.

A substantial boost in state school construction grants is another priority for the county's General Assembly delegation of two senators and four delegates during this year's session.

Carroll has committed local funds to build schools that were approved for state reimbursement. But those reimbursements have been delayed, and new school approvals delayed, because of soaring demands from all school systems in Maryland for the state agency's funds. The surplus would afford a way to catch up.

"We will probably see both of those programs, because everyone knows it's an election year," says Del. Joseph M. Getty. But the governor and the Democratic legislative majority will call the shots.

As usual, Carroll's Republican delegation will be negotiating as a minority partner in the legislature. Del. Ellen Willis Miller, appointed to the vacant House seat of Richard N. Dixon, is the sole Democrat from Carroll.

Also on the delegation wish list is further bond funding for a new Agriculture Center, the final $300,000 of the state's $700,000 commitment. Only this year, the one-time "apple pie" project is under tougher scrutiny.

Ms. Miller upset fellow delegation members last session by embracing the fund request as her personal initiative (with the Democratic leadership) when the rest of the delegation considered it a joint county proposal.

Ms. Miller pre-filed a bill for the bonds -- warning that she's concerned about the shortage of matching funds raised by the nonprofit center's board and with delay in using state funding.

The project has run into local controversy in recent months. Neighbors are complaining about the harmful impact of traffic from year-round events now envisioned at the new facility.

Further, the planned site of the new center on the property has been moved from the original approved location. The intent was to make the new center more attractive for a variety of events, rentals needed to help pay off debt on the $1.5 million project. But the change in siting the new building, which would be the largest exhibition hall in Maryland outside the State Fairgrounds in Timonium, will result in bigger problems for the community, residents claim.

The rest of the delegation's local agenda is relatively modest. Some county liquor law changes, which need General Assembly OK, and the usual request by the county commissioners for a referendum on a 1 percent real estate transfer tax to pay for farmland preservation. But the delegation isn't about to approve higher county taxes, so the transfer tax is again a dead letter.

Two of Mr. Haines' bills aim to put more money into the county treasury without raising taxes.

He wants to pursue an override of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's veto last year of a bill that would allow counties to collect their own real estate recordation fees, instead of paying a 5 percent fee to the state for the service. That would bring an extra $350,000 a year to Carroll. Only the governor's home county, HTC Prince George's, now has such authority.

State property tax cut?

Another bill seeks to transfer to the counties 5 cents (out of 21 cents) in the state property tax rate. State officials and the legislature are loath to give up control of revenues to local jurisdictions, even in a time of surplus. House Democrats and the minority leadership, however, appear to favor cutting the state property tax by 5 cents, to benefit taxpayers rather than county treasuries.

Del. Donald B. Elliott also wants a veto override on a 1996 bill passed by the General Assembly that would have prohibited the use of the dynamometer treadmill testing of auto emissions. Instead, he'll sponsor a bill to reduce (from $450 to $150) the maximum amount a motorist must spend to correct a failing emissions system.

As a member of a state panel on election reform, Mr. Getty expects to press for adoption of the task force's comprehensive revision of the 19th century state election law. State election board authority and enforcement powers would be strengthened, and absentee balloting procedures would be standardized statewide.

He's also proposing that voters present identification at the polls, and that registration addresses be checked against a national database of the U.S. Postal Service.

Amid the uproar over legislative ethics in the probe of Sen. Larry Young, Mr. Getty is hopeful that his bills to strengthen powers of the state prosecutor may find favor. The legislation would give subpoena and witness-immunity powers to that prosecutor, who investigates public officials.

Legislators are wary of enhancing prosecutor powers, he says, but "this year may be the best time for it" to pass.

Mike Burns is The Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

Pub Date: 1/11/98

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