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Del. Bob McKee: New chair eyes the '99 session

January 08, 1999

Don't look for Del. Robert McKee to be a passionate promoter of legislation in the Maryland General Assembly's 1999 session. McKee, the Republican incumbent in District 2A and the newly elected chairman of the Washington County delegation, says his job will be more to organize and facilitate the delegation's business than to push his own legislation.

The job is triply difficult this year because a proposal to fund staff for delegation offices was rejected by the state senate. That means that as of this past Wednesday, McKee hadn't been able to hire anyone to replace Chris Shank, the former aide who won himself a promotion by knocking off Del. Bruce Poole.

Nor had the delegation received the County Commissioners' "wish list" for 1999, though McKee said he'd talked with most county commission members individually.

And finally, McKee will be trying to act as peacemaker between District 3 delegates Louise Snodgrass and Sue Hecht. Snodgrass got involved in a Frederick County effort to dump Hecht, but because it didn't succeed, Snodgrass can expect no favors from her colleague, who just happens to sit on the important Appropriations Committee.

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Is McKee up the task? Yes. The long-time executive director of the Washington County Big Brothers/Big Sisters agency isn't burdened by a big ego, can keep volumes of detail in his head and knows it's important not to lock himself into a position before he's heard what the other side has to say.

On local issues, McKee says the top two may be funding proposals for a new minor league baseball stadium and the new North End home of the Hagerstown YMCA. The stadium bill really won't go anyplace unless the city and county agree to kick in their shares, McKee said, but the YMCA should be successful, especially if the agency follows through with its pledge to see that its old building downtown doesn't remain vacant.

Other issues McKee says will face the delegation in the '99 session:

- Tip-jar gambling. As much as the delegation would like to go for one year without having to deal with this issue, McKee says the county club association is expected to ask for some revisions in the law so that they can deduct the cost of tip jars and gaming commission stickers from their gross profits.

In September 1997, Circuit Judge Fred C. Wright III dismissed a club association lawsuit over the matter, saying that the court "cannot rewrite what the lawmakers wrote."

Now apparently the delegation will be asked to do what the judge couldn't, McKee said, adding that the clubs also want a greater say in how the gaming commission distributes the money.

- Slot machines. McKee said there'll be a strong push by Baltimore-area lawmakers to approve slots for the Maryland horse tracks, to keep some of the money now going to tracks in Delaware and Charles Town, W.Va. Whether it passes, McKee said, may hinge on whether the sponsors can find a way to pass it without forcing Gov. Parris Glendening to go back on his pledge to oppose all casino-type gambling.

- Unions and county government. When the delegation thwarted the last county board's attempt to decertify its union, McKee said he backed the move because the commissioners failed to hold a public hearing on the issue. The delegation did put a "sunset" clause on its action, but McKee said he doesn't expect the new board to try to oust the unions.

- Tax cuts. State Republicans met this week in hopes that the income-tax cut passed in the last session, and due to be phased in over several years, could be accelerated. Glendening had talked about that possibility, McKee said, but has since backed off.

- Utility deregulation. Maryland lawmakers realize they're behind states like Pennsylvania and want to catch up, McKee said, but the proposal on the table now benefits Baltimore Gas & Electric and Potomac Electric Power, and is "not so good" for Allegheny Power.

- Collective bargaining for state employees. Despite opposition from the business community, McKee said Glendening will press ahead with this one because he owes union supporters for help with his re-election.

- Debt relief for the county's $53 million water/sewer debt. McKee's comment: "If there's anything that can be done, we certainly want to attempt it." At some point, McKee and company may have a role in pushing Hagerstown and Washington County to work together on sewer issues, but there is no multi-million-dollar pot of money for a small rural county. Washington County may get some help, but no one in Annapolis is going to pay the bill for us.

- Communication. At the end of last session, McKee said he wanted local government agencies to do a better job of communicating with each other and the public. If you've got a concern, call the delegation, toll-free at 1-800-492-7122.

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