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At Williamsport forum, Md. lawmakers paint grim financial picture

October 21, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

WILLIAMSPORT -- Maryland lawmakers painted a bleak picture of the state's economy Monday night at a community forum in Williamsport, warning residents not to expect any new programs as officials struggle to protect even the most-essential current ones from cuts.

"I have to tell you, any bill that has a fiscal note, that is, a cost associated with it, isn't going to go anywhere," said state Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington. It also is likely there will be no money for bond bills during the General Assembly legislative session that begins in January, Munson said.

About 20 people attended the forum at the Community Building in Byron Memorial Park, organized by Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, as an opportunity to hear what was on his constituents' minds.

Residents questioned the legislators about a state referendum that would legalize slot machines in certain areas and called on them to cut taxes for senior citizens and bring higher-paying jobs to the county.

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Williamsport Town Councilman Jeff Cline said his top request was for legislators to find some relief for seniors.

"They've been bearing the burden of taxes all their life, they put their children through school, they pay for the roads, and now, in the winter of their life, they're paying more fees and taxes than ever before," Cline said. "We've got to come up with some way to honor and reward these people and lower their taxes so they can afford their medicine and go out for dinner on Thursday or Friday nights and so forth, because they're the ones that have led our community."

Barbara Hovermill, 67, of Williamsport, echoed his request, saying property taxes have risen so high that seniors who have paid off their homes feel as if they are still paying a mortgage.

"Please do something for the seniors over 65," she said. "We would thank you forever and never vote you out."

Serafini said he thought aid for seniors who are struggling financially should be a priority, but action will be difficult given the state's budget shortfall. He said he would like to see the state reduce taxes on retirement income, switching to a system like the one in Pennsylvania, in which retirement savings are taxed as they are earned instead of as they are used.

"We're losing a lot of quality people to the state of Pennsylvania," he said.

But Serafini was not optimistic about the proposal's chances.

"As Senator Munson said, all my ideas may be fiscally unpopular in these times," he said.

Serafini represents Subdistrict 2A, which includes the towns of Smithsburg and Williamsport. A second forum, for Smithsburg-area residents, is scheduled for Nov. 6 from 7 to 8 p.m. at the Smithsburg fire hall.

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