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Transportation issues top legislative agenda

December 03, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

The Maryland General Assembly will tackle tough issues such as transportation funding, childproof guns and equitable school spending during the upcoming 90-day session, legislative leaders said Friday.

The Transportation Trust Fund, which pays for highway and mass transit projects, will fall $27 billion short over the next 20 years, said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., addressing a conference of the Maryland Association of Counties at the Ramada Inn in Hagerstown.

While lawmakers have ruled out an increase in the state's gas tax, the state still needs to fix the long-term problem or traffic congestion will continue, said Taylor, D-Allegany/Garrett.

Taylor has proposed putting one-fifth of a percent of the state sales tax into the Transportation Trust Fund while the economy remains strong.

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"There's a saying you fix the roof when the sun's shining. We've got roofs to fix," Taylor said.

In Washington County, the biggest transportation needs are the widening of Interstate 81 and the lengthening of the runway at Hagerstown Regional Airport.

Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller said Taylor's goal is worthy, but politically difficult.

Education spending, which has increased under Gov. Parris Glendening, will also be re-evaluated when the legislature convenes in January.

The state has been spending more on school construction, and a move to lower class size would trigger even more spending. However, some counties have had trouble coming up with their matching share of funding, Taylor said.

"Therefore, they're being left out," he said.

In addition to building his legacy as the "education governor," Glendening will pursue legislation to mandate childproof guns, said his legislative officer, Joseph C. Bryce.

Miller, D-Prince George's/Calvert, said he is concerned about how the law would affect Beretta, a large gun manufacturer in Accokeek, Md.

Bryce said the restriction applies to where the gun is sold, not made, Bryce said.

"My job in the next four months will be to dispel some of the misconceptions," Bryce said.

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