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County delegation receives kudos at annual breakfast event

April 17, 2002|BY LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Washington County business leaders gave local lawmakers a standing ovation Tuesday for their work to secure money for the University System of Maryland Hagerstown Education Center during the legislative session that ended April 8.

Democrats singled out Republican Sen. Donald F. Munson for voting for a cigarette tax he had opposed to ensure that the $12.4 million for the campus wasn't cut from the budget.

"I want to personally commend the senator for making a very hard decision, but a very correct decision. Politics is the art of compromise," said Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington.

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House Speaker Casper R. Taylor, D-Allegany, joked that the education center should be named the Munson campus and congratulated him for making sure Washington County gets fair access to higher education.

Taylor, whose legislative district will stretch into Hancock after the November election, joined all eight members of Washington County's delegation to the Maryland General Assembly at the annual post-legislative breakfast meeting organized by the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce.

The education center is due to open in January 2004 after renovations are completed on the Baldwin House complex in downtown Hagerstown.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, credited the tireless leadership of the Chamber and the Greater Hagerstown Committee for the education center.

"You deserve the pat on the back," he said.

Munson told the group that after he agreed to vote for a 34-cent-per-pack cigarette tax increase earlier this month, he reminded Gov. Parris Glendening about another project important to local business leaders.

A $4.4 million plan to improve open space and parking around the education center has been turned down for funding through the state's Community Legacy program, but Munson is urging the city to reapply for the money.

About 70 Chamber members who attended the forum didn't get the chance to pose questions to lawmakers as they usually do because time ran out.

Some Republicans used the forum to criticize the $780 million structural deficit the state is facing next year.

"We've put Band-Aids on the state budget this session, but the real trouble lies ahead. It's going to come back to haunt us," Shank said.

Republicans said Taylor's bill to study the state's tax structure will lead to a tax increase.

"I think we're going to be fighting some tax increases in future years," said Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington.

Taylor said the state, which has enjoyed eight years of tax reductions, must find a way to meet billions of dollars in unmet needs.

"It should be categorized as a way to honestly face our future, fiscally," he said.

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