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Bob Maginnis - 4/19/01

April 19, 2001

Delegation to Chamber: 2001 a 'mixed bag'



Thanks in part to a coalition of local governments and civic organizations like the Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Hagerstown Committee, which agreed in advance on their priorities Washington County's General Assembly delegation had a better-than-expected session in Annapolis during 2001.

So said Phil Kelly, the chamber official who emceed Wednesday's post legislative breakfast at the Sheraton Four Points and displayed, to the group's delight, a letter he'd just received announcing the start of planning to widen Interstate 81.

But delegation members cautioned the group that due to projected deficits for next year and several years beyond, intense lobbying will be needed to preserve important local projects like the University Systems of Maryland downtown Hagerstown campus.

The group that spoke to the crowd of more than 200 local citizens and businesspeople included all but two delegation members, one of who who might have skipped the session because he had little to celebrate.

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State Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick-Washington, clashed with the leadership and the governor throughout the session. As a result, when Mooney missed a key hearing on a bond-bill money for Frederick County non-profits, local causes there took a major hit. Also absent was Del. John Donoghue, D-Washington, who said he had a continuing-education class scheduled today.

The delegation did well as could be expected money-wise, getting nearly $1 million for such local causes as the Walnut Street Medical Center, the Red Cross, the Arts & Entertainment District proposal and Discovery Station, the interactive science museum planned for downtown.

But because of the economic downtown, more than $10 million earmarked to turn the old Baldwin House complex in downtown Hagerstown into a new college campus has been delayed and is at risk of being put on hold indefinitely, according to Del. Sue Hecht, D-Washington, Frederick.

The key to keeping it alive is to keep the lobbying effort going, Hecht said, by doing whatever needs to be done.

"We have to make sure we are ready to go on this," she said.

Here are some highlights from delegation members' remarks:

- Del. Joseph Bartlett, R-Frederick-Washingon.


As a member of the Finance Resources Subcommittee, Bartlett said he reviewed a proposal to put video-gaming terminals at four sites across the state and to build a horse race track at Little Orleans, Md. He opposed the expansion of gaming, he said, but whether the track gets built is up to the state racing commission.

Bartlett, who opposed a county real-estate transfer tax to fund school renovation and farm preservation, said the school-aid formula is being revamped and that he's working on several measures to cut red tape for farmers, particularly on nutrient-management rules.

Bartlett said he appreciates the county commissioners' financial dilemma, but said he wanted to explore every alternative before backing a tax hike.

- Del. John Donoghue, D-Washington.


Donoghue called later to answer a question I'd given the delegation about the fact that six of the eight individual bills he'd introduced were killed by the House Economic Matters Committee.

Nobody on that panel has it in for him, Donoghue said, but four of his insurance-related bills have been rolled into a study of small insurance groups. A fifth, to assist the locally owned Brethren Mutual Insurance Co., was dropped because of the state indurance commissioner's objections. Those were dealt with in a state senate bill that passed. And another bill to grant Charles Brown a funeral home license was killed after the state morticians' board agreed to grant the license without a law change.

- Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick-Washington.


Hecht told the group that the state hasn't addressed its long-term transportation needs and must do so before long.

In reaction to the county League of Women Voters' proposal to revisit home rule, Hecht said that while it's true that some county residents are represented by those outside the area, it gives local folks additional voices in Annapolis.

- Del. Bob McKee, R-Washington.


McKee also expressed hope that new education funding formula would help with the county's school-renovation program, although he said the governor chose not to make changes until the Thornton Commission's report is done.

McKee raised the question of the City of Hagerstown hiring a lobbyist, saying that it might be a good idea, but added that he hadn't seen the city's employee once during the session.

- Sen. Don Munson, R-District 2.


Munson characterized the session as tough and demanding and said that the results had been a "mixed bag" for the business community.

As for the city hiring a lobbyist, Munson backed the idea and said that his membership on 14 committees makes it difficult to be everywhere at once. But like McKee, he said he'd never been approached by the man this session.

- Del. Chris Shank, R-Washington.


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