County says it's pleased with its share of state budget

School, community college and highway aid increases

April 14, 2004|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel officials say they are satisfied with their allotment of the state budget approved by the General Assembly on Monday, despite earlier fears that the county might lose some or all of $7.8 million tied to utility deregulation.

That money remained in the budget, and the county also received $8.6 million more than last year in local school aid, $1.16 million more for Anne Arundel Community College and $4.1 million more in highway funds.

County Executive Janet S. Owens said she was pleased with the short-term increases, though she remains concerned about the long-term health of the state budget.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's edition of The Sun incorrectly described the details of a bill passed in the General Assembly involving the terms of Anne Arundel County official Robert L. Walker's state pension. The bill would award Walker an additional $17,500 over a 25-year period. The Sun regrets the error.

"We did better overall than we could have hoped for," she said of the recently completed session. "But if I don't sound cheerful, that's because I know what lies ahead."

The county faces an estimated $15 million budget shortfall, though Owens called the retention of the $7.8 million in utility money, "a very big issue for us."

Several bills related to the county also received final approval in the final days of the legislative session.

Among them was a bill that would allow former state workers a second chance to apply for military service credits and boost their pensions. That measure gained attention because it was crafted so that only one person would benefit: Robert L. Walker, the former state secretary of agriculture and the current No. 2 official in Arundel government.

The bill would allow Walker, who makes $125,000 a year, to collect an additional $17,500 a year in retirement, according to a state estimate.

Walker, who was agriculture secretary under Gov. William Donald Schaefer, neglected to turn in the paperwork necessary for him to receive his state pension for military service. He was working out of the country at the time the paperwork had to be submitted. This bill would give him a second chance to submit those documents.

The bill's sponsors - state Sen. Philip C. Jimeno and Del. Joan Cadden, both county Democrats - said they submitted it because Walker is a constituent who lost out on retirement money.

Separately, a bill that would have created a cell phone tax in the county, introduced on behalf of Owens, never made it to a vote in the legislative committee to which it was assigned. The proposal, which received widespread attention when Owens announced it, never picked up support from other state or county leaders.

Owens said she was disappointed that her proposal, which she projected would raise $10 million in revenue, did not gain more traction. "I still believe it was the correct thing, and I promise I will bring it back," she said.

County officials said they were pleased that a proposed $50 increase to state slip fees at marinas did not pass the legislature.

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