Ehrlich seen as county friend

Despite state budget gap, delegation has high hopes

`A place at the negotiating table'

Looking for favorable nod on construction funding

Carroll County

January 19, 2003|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

Few celebrated more fervently than Carroll County's legislators when Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. was sworn in as governor Wednesday. After years of contentious relations with Gov. Parris N. Glendening, members of Carroll's all-Republican delegation said they felt relieved to have an ally in Maryland's top office.

"I've had a grin on my face all day," Del. Carmen Amedori said after the inauguration ceremony in Annapolis. "Carroll County has been slighted all these years under Glendening, but that's not going to continue under Ehrlich."

County residents, who gave Ehrlich 77 percent of the vote in November, will notice an immediate change, delegation members predicted. They say county road and construction projects are likely to be funded despite tight fiscal times.

Among the projects legislators mentioned were a $3.1 million intersection that will provide an entrance to Sykesville's Warfield development from Route 32 and the long-planned Route 30 bypass around Hampstead.

Such projects will have a better chance of surviving the budget crunch than they would have in previous years, legislators said, because many of Ehrlich's appointed hands are old friends of the Carroll delegation.

Ehrlich's policy director, Joseph M. Getty, was a member of the delegation until last year. The new governor's nominee for transportation secretary, Robert L. Flanagan, a delegate from Howard County, shared an office with Carroll's Del. Susan W. Krebs until last week.

"These are people we have face-to-face relationships with," Amedori said. "It'll no longer be the old situation where the person picks up the phone when we call and says, `Who?'"

Though Ehrlich's ascension offered Carroll legislators a euphoric beginning to this year's General Assembly session, they say the next three months will be less fun, with the state's projected $1.3 billion budget deficit for next fiscal year likely to overshadow all other issues.

Delegation members have a few bills in the works but say protecting budget allocations to the county will be the chief policy goal.

Krebs, for example, said she doesn't plan to submit much, if any, legislation during her freshman session. Instead, she said, she will focus on getting money for such projects as the new intersection at Route 32.

Krebs represents the new 9B delegate district, which encompasses most of rapidly growing South Carroll. Road and school improvements are priorities to her constituents, Krebs said, so that is what she'll worry about.

"I think little else will get done this year because of the budget," Krebs said. "Our records won't be judged by how many bills our names appear on."

Haines optimistic

State Sen. Larry E. Haines of Westminster, who championed Ehrlich long before the congressman filed for the governor's race, predicted that Carroll will do well in the budget fallout.

"We're not going to get everything we want," Haines said. "But we didn't get much of anything in the past. The rural counties and their concerns will finally have a place at the negotiating table."

Ehrlich's budget is predicated on his ability to get slot machines legalized at Maryland racetracks, a proposal supported by most of the Carroll delegation.

Even Haines, who has moral objections to any expansion of gambling, said he won't try to block the slot proposal because the state needs the money.

Haines said he might push for a law that would prevent the state's gambling industry from incorporating casinos.

"I think we're going to get slots in some form," Haines said. "But I'd like to make sure, right now, that it will never go farther than that."

Haines' willingness to stand aside on the slots debate shows the sway Ehrlich holds over the Carroll delegation.

"I've pledged that I won't do anything to distract from the governor's agenda," Haines said.

That might also mean Haines will hold off on reintroducing his bill that would ban "partial-birth abortions" in the state.

Haines said he is drafting a version of the bill that would conform with a pending federal bill, but he said he won't introduce his version without first asking Ehrlich. Haines got a similar bill through the state Senate in 1999, only to watch it be narrowly defeated in the House.

Other Carroll legislators also plan to work on statewide issues. Amedori, one of two delegates representing District 5A that includes Westminster, has immersed herself in juvenile justice issues over the past several years. She said she hopes to make education a larger part of the state's reform system.

Amedori hopes Maryland will model its system on the one she observed in St . Louis, where all reform centers share a basic curriculum. She wants legislation that would require the State Department of Education to create and monitor a curriculum for Maryland juvenile facilities, beginning at the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in Baltimore County.

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