Harford legislators head to Annapolis with list of goals

Preserving state aid to county is top priority

January 11, 2004|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Harford County lawmakers are packing their bags and checking their legislative wish lists as they prepare to head off to Annapolis this week for the start of another 90-day session of the Maryland General Assembly.

"The first thing on my list is the preservation of local aid, money from the state to the county," said Del. Barry Glassman, the 41-year-old Republican who represents northern Harford County and is chairman of the county's legislative delegation.

He said County Executive James M. Harkins' marching orders to the 11-member delegation are "to hold onto what we have."

Glassman said school funding would be a major issue in a year when the state's budget problems are again expected to dominate the session.

While money will be on the minds of all lawmakers, the county's elected officials have a wide variety of other items on their lists.

They include a bill clearing the way for Fiore Winery near Pylesville to add port to its wine list, ensuring that the state's Transportation Trust Fund is used only for transportation, setting a limit on tuition increases at state colleges and banning the use of fireworks inside buildings.

Harkins has his own list.

In addition to safeguarding state funding to the county, he supports the enabling legislation that would allow the County Council to create new revenue streams to pay for school construction and renovation.

Harkins has committed the county to paying the full cost of the planned $52 million Patterson Mill middle and high school complex just south of Bel Air.

The complex is expected to accommodate 1,600 students. According to school officials, this will reduce attendance at six other schools and give them room to grow.

While the county has agreed to pay for the school, it hopes to be reimbursed eventually by the state for its half of the bill.

To boost the county's chances of getting some of its money back, Glassman said he would be looking at changes in current laws. Under the present law, he said, it is not certain that the county would be reimbursed by the state if the county went to the bond market to borrow money for the Patterson Mill complex. "Maybe we need to tweak the rules a bit," he said, to help ensure a payment.

In what could be a promising development on the school-funding front, Sen. J. Robert Hooper says he has reached an agreement with his two Senate colleagues on a plan to impose an impact fee on new houses to pay for school construction. Hooper, a Republican, represents Bel Air, Abingdon, Fallston and Darlington.

If such a fee were authorized, Glassman said, the bill would need to be worded in a way that the money could be used to improve old schools as well as pay for construction of new schools.

Del. Mary-Dulany James, a Democrat who represents the southern part of the county, wants to put new locks on the Transportation Trust Fund to keep the governor out.

She said she would be promoting legislation saying that "the fund can't be touched just to balance the budget, and if money is removed, it needs to be paid back."

She said the governor's tapping of these funds has hindered efforts to make improvements to the intersection of Interstate 95 and Route 24, one of the most dangerous in the county.

The area averages more than one auto accident a week, according to the State Highway Administration.

Del. Susan K. McComas, a Republican whose district includes the greater Bel Air region, wants something done at the same intersection to make it safer for pedestrians. "It's not safe for people to walk to the stores there," she said. "It not safe for kids on bikes."

Del. Charles R. Boutin, said he will introduce a bill that would allow law enforcement officials to indict someone involved in the death of a fetus when a pregnant woman is assaulted. He said the bill was motivated by a recent situation in Hagerstown when a pregnant woman was beaten during a robbery, resulting in the deaths of her twin fetuses.

Boutin - a Republican representing Joppatowne, Havre de Grace and Aberdeen - said he would also sponsor legislation to prohibit the use of fireworks inside buildings. He said the bill was prompted by the fire during a concert at a Rhode Island nightclub last year that killed nearly 100 people.

Del. Patrick L. McDonough - a Republican representing Joppa, Abingdon, Fallston and the southern part of Bel Air - wants to give the governor the authority to impose a cap on tuition increases by University System of Maryland schools.

He said he will also be fighting what he called "bad legislation," including a move to raise the state sales tax to 6 percent from 5 percent and have it apply to a wider variety of purchases.

In a bill that would benefit a county winery, Glassman said legislation would be introduced to allow Fiore to make port. Mike Fiore, who operates the winery with his wife, Rose, explained that current law does not allow them to make port, which has a higher alcohol level than wine.

At least one lawmaker will be holding back on his requests this year. "My approach is not to ask for too much," said Republican Del. Richard K. Impallaria, whose district includes Joppa, Edgewood, Abingdon and Fallston. "Then maybe you can get what you want. I will be happy if we get funding for school construction and no additional cuts in state funding to the county."

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