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Business leaders make list of goals

December 08, 2000

Business leaders make list of goals



By LAURA ERNDE / Staff Writer


Washington County business leaders asked state lawmakers Friday to bring back $55 million in state money for local education, transportation and economic development projects over the next five years.

"These numbers are not unreasonable. These are smart projects," said Phil Kelly, moderator for the annual pre-legislative forum sponsored by the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce.

About 100 local businesspeople, along with six of the eight members of the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly, attended the event at the Plaza Hotel in Halfway.

In the upcoming legislative session that starts in January, the Chamber would like the state to commit $11.8 million for six local projects. They are:

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HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> $1 million toward renovation of the Baldwin House complex on West Washington Street for the University System of Maryland.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> $4.4 million for downtown open space improvements around the university.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> $3 million of an $8 million state contribution to a Civil War Museum in downtown Hagerstown.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> $1.6 million to study the widening of Interstate 81, with another $2 million for construction in later years.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> $1 million of a $6 million state contribution for a new minor league baseball stadium.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> $800,000 for improvements to the southwest quadrant of downtown Hagerstown, near the new Washington County District Court building on Antietam Street.

The Chamber's "wish list" in later years includes $4 million to move the Washington County Board of Education offices from Commonwealth Avenue to downtown Hagerstown, $10 million to create a downtown Hagerstown Arts and Entertainment District, $1.9 million toward extending Hagerstown Regional Airport's runway and $800,000 to bridge the runway extension over U.S. 11.

The Chamber believes Washington County has not gotten its fair share of state dollars in the past, Kelly said. The delegation members were questioned about how they planned to work with Democratic Gov. Parris Glendening to get funding.

While local lawmakers sometimes disagree with Glendening on policy issues, they try to do so quietly, said Delegation Chairman Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington.

"We're not down there trying to kick the governor in the face. If we can praise him, we do," McKee said.

Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington, said Glendening won't deny funding to a worthy project if it's good for the state and if local and private funding are already secured.

Speaking about the proposed transportation projects, Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said lawmakers try to keep them "on the radar screen" by talking to state and federal officials.

But Munson, who is on the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, warned that the state is facing some tight budget years. Budget analysts are predicting operating shortfalls in 2003, through 2005, he said.

The nature of politics often thwarts lawmakers' best efforts to get funding, said Del. Louise Snodgrass, R-Frederick/Washington.

As an example, Snodgrass described how a bill to create the South Mountain Battlefield was threatened last session unless she and Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, supported a Baltimore County condemnation bill. Both refused to compromise on principal.

In the end, both bills passed the General Assembly, although the condemnation bill was killed last month by a voter referendum.

Each of the lawmakers had an opportunity at Friday's forum to address statewide issues that will be addressed in the 90-day session.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said a lobbying group is pressuring the legislature to create a single-payer health care system.

But Donoghue, who chairs the health care subcommittee of the House Economic Matters Committee, opposes it because it would drive up premiums without giving people better health care.

The legislature may also tackle the problem of rising prescription drug costs for seniors this session, he said.

Shank said his committee, House Commerce and Government Matters, expects to address issues surrounding the regulation of banks and other financial services institutions.

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