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Shank reflects on legislative session

April 11, 2004

As the 2004 session of the Maryland General Assembly draws to a close, The Herald-Mail sat down with Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, who served as chair of the Washington County Delegation for the first time this year.

Q. How did Washington County fare this session?

A: When you look at the amount of bills that were introduced and the amount of bills that we passed, our major priorities that we started off with at the beginning of the legislative session and where we ended up, I think we did very well.

I'm very pleased with our performance in terms of local bills, in terms of the University (System) of Maryland, which was the top priority.

What I am very pleased with is the relationship this delegation has with the governor's office. In terms of how we're able to work with the governor on our funding initiatives like the University (System) of Maryland and to be able to have a good relationship with the second floor on the funding initiatives, I think, has been very helpful.

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And then when you look at it from a local legislative angle, with one notable exception, all of our bills were successful. In terms of our bond bills, Sen. (Donald) Munson did a great job in getting a charter school for the arts funded on the Senate side. The $750,000 bond bills that we got on the House side in terms of the Red Cross, Boys and Girls Club, Girls Inc. and the ABC, the Associated Builders and Contractors project, all very worthwhile projects.

So despite pretty lean economic times, I think from an economic perspective, we did very well in Washington County. Thanks to the help of the governor, we were able to get University (System) of Maryland. Our local initiatives passed, many of which, I think, are going to be long term in nature in terms of the ramifications.

You go back to the beginning of the session, two bills that really didn't get a whole lot of attention, but I think will set the framework long term. The Water and Sewer Infrastructure Commission hopefully, once we get it moving, will be an opportunity for us to really address some key issues between the city and the county and all the municipalities about wastewater and water infrastructure in Washington County. Some of the debates in the past, hopefully we'll be able to go a long way in getting resolved in terms of charting our future of growth in Washington County.

The public facilities bond legislation that sets up the ability for them to do installment purchase agreements, I think, will go a long way in addressing a lot of these equity issues dealing with the Comprehensive Plan by compensating landowners for their market value, while at the same time preserving our rural heritage and not letting us get overwhelmed by growth.

I think those are some long-term bills that weren't very controversial. We've got a lot of work ahead in terms of the commission, but the public facilities bond issue, I think, will go a long way in terms of modernizing some of our land preservation programs.

I think we did very well.

Q. What would you say was the delegation's biggest accomplishment?

A. University (System) of Maryland. It started off as our top priority in terms of lobbying the governor to put it in the budget.

That was the very hard part was in a very tight budget year when University (System) of Maryland did not get any increases in funding, the effort of the delegation, the business community, County Commissioners, mayor of Hagerstown, to pull together on a project and get that funded. Clearly, that was the most important, and I think will pay the most important dividends long term in terms of our economic development, what it means to Washington County to have the ability to have a four-year degree program in Washington County. That is going to transcend every other issue we dealt with this legislative session in terms of the future of Washington County.

Q. What would you consider the biggest disappointment for the delegation?

A. Big surprise there. Obviously, the answer is the demise of the PenMar legislation. I'm disappointed at the amount of time, work, effort and controversy that it created in terms of the end result was not a piece of legislation, and we were not able to get important provisions dealing with accountability and oversight that the delegation felt needed to be added to existing law.

In terms of just the amount of work that went into that product trying to accommodate concerns, trying to compromise, trying to come to a solution that most people could agree with, but ultimately not having that being accepted, was a disappointment that we had spent that much time. But although it's a disappointment, I still say it wasn't a waste of time.

If I had it to do over again, I might have approached it from a different angle, but I would have still done it because I still believe that it needed to be done.

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