Legislative preview

January 10, 1998

Legislative preview

Preview of some local and state issues

Gambling: There are several proposed amendments to Washington County's tip jar gaming law, the biggest likely being the push to remove the law's sunset date of July 1, 1999.

If the law is not amended before then to extend or remove the sunset, the law will cease to exist on that date and bring an end to the county Gaming Commission. The commission contributed $1.7 million to charities last year from $63.1 million in tip jar proceeds raised at county fraternal clubs and bars.

There will also be proposals dealing with the elimination of in-kind contributions to charities from nonprofit clubs that have tip jars - replacing them with a flat 15 percent of gross tip jar profits, to be donated in cash to charities through the county Gaming Commission.


Schools: The battle over what to do with a $260 million state budget surplus will likely have various jurisdictions lining up to bring some pork back home, probably in the form of a one-time increase in school construction funds.

County lawmakers said such an increase could accelerate local projects already approved by the state, such as the major renovation planned for South Hagerstown High School or add new projects to the list.

The surplus fight could also result in increased spending on school operations.

Taxes: Another part of the surplus battle will likely focus on whether part of the money will be used to cut taxes, or accelerate the tax cut the legislature approved last year.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, and others have said they would like to see a one-time reduction in the state's property tax. Many Republicans are favoring a plan to accelerate the current 10 percent income tax cut, which is being spread over five years.

There is a feeling among many lawmakers that much of the surplus should be put in the bank so the state will be prepared when harder economic times hit.

Pfiesteria: The microbe that is believed to have killed fish and left many people ill on the lower Eastern Shore last summer will likely lead to a flurry of legislation from legislators concerned with the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

The bills will probably target runoff from farms, which many people believe caused the Pfiesteria problem.

But farmers statewide will likely oppose any proposed regulations that restrict or set tighter controls on the use of manure as fertilizer on their farms.

Water and sewer: The Washington County Commissioners have requested several pieces of legislation to help reduce the estimated $55 million debt the county owes on its water and sewer system.

One proposal, which would forgive the county $10.2 million in state debt, is given almost no chance of passage by lawmakers concerned it would set an awful precedent.

Another proposal would write into law the county's current practice of using $3.5 million general fund dollars, which are raised from all county taxpayers, to help pay off the water and sewer debt.

Stadium: With one year left on its lease at 67-year-old Municipal Stadium, the Hagerstown Suns want a new home in the area.

There could be an effort by some lawmakers to seek state funding for a new stadium for the Class A South Atlantic League team. Taylor has also voiced support for the idea.

But lawmakers also said any bid must include a firm plan from local officials that includes the cost of the project and a location. The project might also have to include a substantial private investment and a requirement that the facility will be used for more than minor league baseball.

- by Guy Fletcher

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