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Annapolis notes

March 06, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

Tax fight proves taxing

Everybody's talking about potential tax cuts this year, but not necessarily to each other.

Last week, the House Ways and Means Committee faced a mountain of bills aimed at lowering property taxes in various Maryland regions.

Included was a bill offered by local legislators to lower Washington County's tax cap on property assessments from 10 percent to 5 percent - a bill county officials agreed to support after lawmakers had decided to file it.

Before Washington County Delegation Chairman Christopher B. Shank could present the bill, the committee heard a similar bill offered by Eastern Shore Del. Michael D. Smigiel for Cecil County.


Cecil County officials hadn't quite come around to Smigiel's way of thinking.

Smigiel anticipated opposition and attempted to explain what those arguments might be when committee Chairman Sheila Hixson stopped him.

"There is no opposition," Hixson said.

Smigiel looked surprised, but stood to leave the witness seat in the hearing room when Hixson called the next witness - Nelson Bolender, president of the Cecil County Commissioners.

"I thought there was no opposition?" Smigiel exclaimed.

But Bolender declared his support for the bill - with a number of amendments, which he emphatically stated as startled committee members witnessed a bit of a tirade. Smigiel had acted on his own, Bolender told them, without consulting the county officials who would be stuck working out the cuts Smigiel's bill would force on them.

Afterward, Hixson called Shank to the table to present the Washington County bill.

"Del. Shank," she wearily asked, "are there any Washington County Commissioners here?"

He stood in the House but did nothing at all

Thursday was "Read Across America Day" and to celebrate, the General Assembly welcomed a special guest - the legendary "Cat in the Hat."

Just one problem, remarked House Speaker Michael E. Busch as he glared past the feline with the tall hat at the legislators giggling at their desks.

"We're still trying to decipher who's Thing One and Thing Two."

But all the delegates could do was sit! Sit! Sit! Sit!

And they did not like it, not one little bit.

Quality beats quantity

As the General Assembly heads into its final weeks, committee meetings get longer as legislators attempt to give all bills a public hearing.

Hearings on a controversial bill to change rules on annexation by municipalities went on for hours Wednesday in the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.

But sponsors of the House version found that in the Environmental Matters Committee, Chairman Maggie McIntosh and Vice Chairman James Malone run a tight ship.

Witnesses packed the hearing room. Each would have two minutes to speak, McIntosh said, and she timed them.

Still, so many spoke that the hearing went on for most of the afternoon. At one point, Malone asked how many others in the audience were municipal officials opposed to the bill, but didn't need to speak. Scores of people stood. Malone noted their appearance.

"We appreciate you all coming down today," he said. "And not speaking."

Collateral damage

Finishing work continues on the new wing of the House office building, and while it was designed to accommodate state-of-the-art technology, little is working quite right just yet. Reception for cell phones is poor, lawmakers are still trying to figure out how to work the microphones and much of the wiring remains to be connected.

Last week, the wiring problem claimed a casualty.

Until wiring allowing delegates to hook up computers and other equipment under their committee room desks is complete, they're using conventional cords plugged into wall outlets.

The result?

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, limped around Annapolis after tangling his foot Thursday in a cord being used Del. Joseph Boteler, R-Baltimore County.

The prognosis appeared to be good Friday, as swelling had subsided considerably from the day before.

That's an understatement

Receiving new tax assessment notices in the mail "causes great consternation and heartburn."

- Del. Wade Kach, R-Baltimore County, testifying on his proposal to include more explanations in the notices

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