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Library funding goes a-curling to P.G. after lawmakers incur governor's wrath

April 21, 2000

The vote before you is whether or not to displace several hundred residents along Baltimore County's Chesapeake shoreline to make way for a major developer. The politically powerful Baltimore delegation believes this is a good move that will ultimately add to the county's welfare.

Breaking some eggs to make an omelet. Except of course these aren't eggs, they're people.

But they aren't "your" people. Your people live in a district 75 miles to the west and they want a state park commemorating the Battle of South Mountain, which they believe will boost tourism and increase the flow of money and jobs into their community.

Baltimore County has the votes to win, and ultimately a vote against this project will amount to a meaningless, protest vote. Further, these local matters are generally given "local courtesy" by statewide lawmakers. In other words, on an issue that doesn't affect the state as a whole, it's assumed that local lawmakers know what is best for their local residents and their wishes on local affairs are generally rubber stamped.

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What's more, your protest vote will anger the Baltimore contingent, which can easily stomp all over your own local issue, the South Mountain Battlefield as a payback.

Still, the idea of displacing people from their homes sticks in your craw. So do you register your protest and keep your own conscience clear by voting No? Or do you play the game and support your own district's needs by voting Yes?

Do you vote your own principles, or do you vote for the people you represent?

Think about if for more than a minute or two and you can see there's no clearly correct answer.

Dels. Chris Shank and Louise Snodgrass, who sat on the committee assigned to the bill, sided with the Baltimore County homeowners. They stuck to their guns, despite withering pressure from Baltimore lawmakers who threatened to kill the South Mountain park if the two Washington County Republicans didn't play ball.

To my mind, they did the right thing. The Baltimore plan is so dubious that I believe they were correct to put homeowners across the state ahead of a local park. And the park bill was eventually rescued by Del. John Donoghue.

Not all calls, however, are this tough and, unfortunately, some of our local lawmakers treat their own political careers with the same gentility they afford to residents of the Baltimore bay area.

On the governor's top priorities, a majority of the delegation opposed him, even though their votes didn't matter in the final count. That's smart if you want to stay in office, but dumb if you want to help the people of Washington County.

While other counties were getting $250,000 for a curling rink (the sport where you flick a stone across the ice and guide it with a whisk broom) and $1.4 million for an amphitheater - an appropriation that hadn't even been expected - Washington County was getting skunked on projects such as a library for Clear Spring and a nursing home for veterans.

Wailing at the injustice, people blame the governor. But in Maryland, the governor controls the budget and to expect the executive not to use that power to his advantage is a naive fantasy. Would we be weeping for Prince George's County if Ellen Sauerbrey had won and Washington County were reaping the benefits of supporting her agenda?

But the majority of our delegation acts like a spoiled child, crying over the injustice of a mean daddy who has the power, constitutionally if not parentally, to withhold their allowance until they mow the grass.

Consider trigger locks. I believe the gun proponents are right; the new law isn't going to solve many problems. But here we have the trigger-lock law anyway, (the vote wasn't very close) and because our delegation voted with campaign brochures in mind, all the Washington County gun owners' tax dollars are going straight to Prince George's County to pay for a curling rink, instead of staying here to pay for a library.

And the final nail in the coffin of Washington County's 2000 legislative-agenda corpse was Sen. Don Munson's foolish attempt to backdoor the governor by supporting a location study of the University of Maryland's planned Hagerstown branch.

Attempting a power play when you don't have any power is laughable. Especially when your feeble effort is performed in the face of a governor with teeth.

Munson has the clout to play the bully in Washington County politics - and doubtless he'll go after Mayor Bob Bruchey for publicly pointing out on Wednesday that the Senator has no clothes - but in Annapolis Munson goes unnoticed. Except when he pulls a stunt that ends up getting many of our funding requests scratched out of the state budget.

Given a chance to explain himself to the people of Washington County at the annual Chamber of Commerce-sponsored legislative review last week, Munson didn't have the courage to show up. Out of town on state business, much to the frustration of Bruchey who was front and center and loaded for bear.

The mayor must find it amusing how the senator who always claims to put his own people above state business ducked his own constituents to attend to a Budget and Tax Committee field trip.

Not that it will cost Munson anything. He knows he can scurry away from people who demand accountability and the people will re-elect him anyway, thanks to years of meticulous attention to electoral details.

Shank is a freshman, with some admirable attributes and room to learn. Let's hope he uses them to advantage and works at the art of compromise instead of destruction. Meanwhile Washington County must be content with recipe cards that say "Vote for Don Munson," while Prince George's County must be content with the knowledge that the best thing it can spend Washington County's rightful tax dollars on is a curling rink.




Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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