1997 session in Annapolis may be 'wild'

January 05, 1997


Staff Writer

When the Maryland General Assembly meets in Annapolis this week, it will begin what some legislators believe will be the liveliest 90-day session in recent memory.

"This session is going to be a zoo," said Del. J. Anita Stup, R-Frederick/Washington.

With controversial topics ranging from cutting taxes to easing environmental restrictions, there will be no shortage of issues for debate.

"I think it's going to be an interesting session. I think the biggest issue is going to be, of course, this tax cut," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

Munson and other legislators consider an income tax cut, which is being supported by Gov. Parris N. Glendening and some legislative leaders, a done deal. The real debate will likely center on how to cover the lost revenue in the state's $15 billion budget, they said.


"It's got to come from somewhere, and that's the big unknown right now," said Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, who chairs the county delegation.

Fueling the debate even more are the various spending programs Glendening has proposed. They include free college tuition for above-average high school students, a pay raise for state police, and health care for low-income children and pregnant mothers.

"We're just curious, with everything he has proposed programwise, how he is going to pay for it," said Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington.

"I know we're all very anxious to see his budget," he added.

Glendening has proposed doubling the state's cigarette tax to help make up for the revenue lost by a 10 percent cut spread over three years. House Speaker Casper R. Taylor has discussed expanding the state's sales tax into new technologies and services to pay for his cut of at least 10 percent.

Munson, a member of the key Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, said the various taxes will have to be looked at, but he added there is also room in the state budget for cuts.

"I think, frankly, we are going to have to take a look at individual services," he said.

Environmental issues

One of the biggest environmental issues the assembly faces is the "brownfields" legislation, which would encourage the redevelopment of abandoned and polluted industrial sites.

The legislation failed on the final day of the 1996 session, but Stup, a member of the House Environmental Matters Committee, predicted it would pass this year.

New to legislators this year will be Glendening's plan to direct growth into areas that are already served by roads, schools and other services.

The goal is to prevent sprawl and to protect undeveloped land, but debate could center on issues such as state vs. local control of planning and the ability of farmers to sell their property for development.

"It will upset people to no end. There's no question about it," Munson said of the growth plan.

Campaign finance reform

Several local legislators are already preparing to submit their own legislation. Poole said he is considering some type of campaign finance reform bill - possibly taxing election spending over a set limit.

"I think the money is spoiling our democratic system, from state and county politics all the way up to the White House," Poole said.

He said it is important to get some type of reform passed now, before it risks getting caught in election-year politics.

"This is the time to strike," he said.

Donoghue, who chairs a health care subcommittee, said he will likely submit legislation in response to patient complaints about health maintenance organizations (HMOs).

"The bottom line is they are looking to do things as cheaply as possible," he said of the health organizations.

Whatever happens, legislators are predicting plenty of action.

"I'm told this will probably be the wild year," said Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington.

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