Steele talks to group of officials from state counties

December 03, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

HAGERSTOWN - At an event attended Thursday by local officials from around the state, Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele addressed issues that he said will be at the top of Gov. Robert Ehrlich's agenda as the General Assembly session nears.

Among those issues were rising medical malpractice insurance costs and finding new sources of money.

Steele spoke Thursday night before a crowd of about 200 officials from around the state who had gathered for a semiannual conference of the Maryland Association of Counties. The conference is being held at the Clarion Hotel & Conference Center Antietam Creek on Dual Highway.

Steele said he did not believe raising money to pay for programs will be a problem, but the money that is available will have to be spent responsibly.


"Money is not an issue," Steele said, but counties "have felt the sting of budget challenges over the past two years. ... We must move forward and put in place identifiable sources of money."

Steele said new taxes are not being considered by Ehrlich but there are other available sources of money. Steele did not say specifically what those sources were in his prepared remarks.

After his comments in response to a question about possible slot machine legislation, Steele said there hasn't yet been any discussion about the governor's reintroducing a new bill, "but that doesn't mean (there) won't be."

Steele said to the audience that medical malpractice insurance reform is high on the governor's agenda, as well as education funding, including the Thornton education funding plan, which is planned to boost statewide education spending by $1.3 billion by 2008.

On the malpractice issue, Steele said the state was struggling.

"That has a financial impact on our counties and our state. Why? Because we're losing doctors and it's having an impact on how we pay for health care and the cost ultimately to citizens," Steele said.

Before his speech, Steele told reporters that he hoped the General Assembly would hold a special session before Christmas, and that looked favorable, but it would be up to the legislative leaders to do so.

Steele also called on the officials to make a bipartisan effort in resolving the coming challenges.

"Do the haggling over the policy, but put the Ds and the Rs aside and come to the table and solve the problem. ... We're ready to roll up our sleeves for the next session," then he quipped, "the boys and girls return to the playground in January."

n In response to a reporter's question, Steele said the Ehrlich administration was continuing to look at funding a study involving Municipal Stadium and surrounding neighborhoods, an area that is being considered for redevelopment that might include a new convention center and a new or refurbished stadium.

"There has been some follow-up," Steele said. "We're now at that part of the budget process to see what dollars we're gonna put into the hopper ... So it's on the table (but) we're just now beginning to tackle it."

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