For once, Western Maryland isn't assembly's doormat

April 19, 1998

Tim Rowland

Legislatures without money are like children without sleep. They get grouchy, selfish and step on other people's toys.

In the early '90s when the state had no real money (unless you are silly enough to consider $13 billion real money), more than one lawmaker sighed that participation in the Maryland General Assembly just wasn't any fun anymore. Not so un-fun as not to run for re-election, mind you, but a burden nonetheless.

Nerves were frayed then, as lawmakers clawed for every dollar, routinely snapped at each other (which in at least one instance led to a shoving match in the Senate cloakroom) and held up each others' legislation for no better reason that spite.

Funny what a couple hundred million dollars will do.

It could be the money, it could be the fact that it's an election year, or it could be that their hearts grew three sizes that night, but whatever the reason this was among the smoothest and most productive sessions for local lawmakers in recent memory.


Most every important local issue had been tied up a couple days before Monday's adjournment, sparing local lawmakers the traditional scrambling and crisis-quenching that goes on as the clock closes in on midnight.

Even on statewide issues, where urban lawmakers traditionally wipe their feet on Maryland's eastern and western doormats, the locals did well. Who would have thought that satisfactory resolutions to both the milk-price and fertilizer-runoff issues would pass into law this year?

Granted, the local agenda was not tremendously ambitious - election years are great tamers of legislative volition. Most notably absent from the slate was the issue for a new baseball stadium. Although in truth, with such mixed signals at the local level, the state's hands are tied considerably.

As an aside, it is interesting how the people who are most fixed against change are the ones who are most incensed when their taxes go up. They don't realize it is change that attracts people and money and broadens the tax base, allowing rates to remain reasonable. In and of itself a stadium will not pay for itself. But as part of a countywide mosaic of attractive leisure opportunities there's no question it would increase the county's desirability.

That aside, the local delegation guaranteed itself a successful year with the passage of two bills that solidify the county's tip jar gambling taxation law. With this year's polish, the gambling laws make Washington County "the envy of many counties around us," County Administrator Rod Shoop correctly points out. Indeed, the County Commissioners and state lawmakers have in place a good, home-grown law that works and puts millions of dollars into the hands of charities and fire and rescue companies.

Part of the polish was to erase a sunset clause that would have scraped the gambling tax after next July. Speaking of change, this is a very telling weather vane that indicates a shift in Washington County political winds.

Technically, the local delegation could have waited until the 1999 session to remove the sunset clause, thus avoiding a potentially controversial stand in an election year. The private clubs would have loved to see this law expire, and you don't have to go back too many years at all to find a time when it would have been unthinkable for lawmakers to cross the clubs in an election year.

Much due to their own greed and folly, the clubs are simply not the political force they once were. Politically, the torch has been passed to a more progressive segment of the population, which is more likely to be involved in charities and organizations that promote child and elderly well-being, education, arts, recreation and health.

Our local lawmakers did the right thing in solidifying our county's gambling law. And residually, they in some sense validated a new generation of leaders and a new generation of voter influence.

Will these new leaders and voters realize this and take advantage? I hope so.

The significance of their contribution to, and influence of, this year's legislative action should not be underestimated. These fresh thinkers should step up and use this new status to add real and meaningful contributions to the quality of Washington County life.

Lawmakers, as we've seen this session, do listen.

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