Balto. Co. did well in Assembly, Smith says

New county executive points to transportation, school project support

April 10, 2003|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

For Baltimore County, this year's General Assembly session had the look of potential disaster: A new executive who had never spent time in Annapolis would be working with a county delegation bereft of its most experienced and powerful leaders in a year of painful budget cuts from the state.

Despite that, County Executive James T. Smith Jr. told legislators at a breakfast meeting yesterday that Baltimore County came out of the session in relatively good shape.

Early plans for the state to take some locally levied income tax revenues didn't materialize, the county increased its share of state school construction money and the county's major transportation initiatives are still on track.

"Most of the modest agenda I outlined in January was achieved," Smith said.

Legislative leaders from both parties present at yesterday's breakfast said Smith had big shoes to fill - his predecessor, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, worked closely with legislators - but that he seemed to do well.

"He's not as honed as Dutch because of Dutch's experience, but he's very easy to get along with and he listens to our concerns," said Del. Joseph J. "Sonny" Minnick, a Dundalk Democrat and chairman of the county's House delegation. "He did pretty well, and he'll only improve."

Del. Alfred W. Redmer Jr., a Perry Hall Republican and the House minority leader, said that for the county to come out of this session relatively unscathed is a "tremendous victory."

"I think Jim did a very good job of creating new relationships and developing ones he already had," Redmer said.

Smith spent one or two days a week in Annapolis during the session and said the difficult budget circumstances this year helped him get to know the key players more quickly than he might otherwise have. Because large cuts to local governments were possible, the Senate president, the House speaker, the governor and others were all interested in his opinion, Smith said.

"I certainly learned a lot," he said.

The session is over, but Smith's involvement in Annapolis isn't. More school construction funds will be available this spring, and the governor has indicated he plans to veto some tax increases passed by the legislature, which would leave a state budget deficit of more than $130 million that must be closed.

"I do have a concern about what the governor will do with the $138 million he has to make up," Smith said. "I'm hopeful he'll see the $150 million in cuts local government has already suffered."

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