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Lawmakers anticipate budget cuts

January 10, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Lawmakers say it will be hard to secure any additional state money for Washington County in a year when Maryland is facing a possible $1.9 billion shortfall, and officials say they will have to fight just to keep what the county already has.

Most members of Washington County's delegation to the Maryland General Assembly say working with the state budget will be a top priority in the coming General Assembly session. They expect Gov. Martin O'Malley to present a reduced budget that they will trim even further.

Some representatives said they are not planning to introduce many bills during this year's legislative session, which begins Wednesday. And those they will sponsor likely will have no fiscal impact.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington

Munson said he expects the General Assembly will need to cut an additional $2 billion from the budget O'Malley presents this month. With that in mind, he's not planning to ask for much additional funding.

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"I don't feel that this is a very good time to introduce legislation," Munson said. "Almost all have a cost, and there's not going to be any money to pay."

One bill Munson will introduce would make it illegal to offer to buy a child. Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, will cross-file in the House.

Munson said a woman was approached in a Hagerstown park by a person who offered to buy her child. Terrified, the woman went to the police, but learned it was not a crime to offer to buy a child.

It is a crime to sell a child, he said.

Munson said the bill would punish those offenders with a long prison term and a substantial fine.

He also would like the local delegation to sponsor a bill recognizing police at Hagerstown Community College as a police force, making it possible for officers to access certain criminal databases they say are needed to search criminal records and other information.

Munson also will ask for bond bills for local projects, including $250,000 for the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts and $100,000 for the Doleman Black History Museum in Hagerstown.

Munson, who serves on the Budget and Taxation Committee, said much of his time in Annapolis will be spent focusing on the budget.

"The budget is going to have to be cut," he said. "There are going to be lots of cuts. And some of them are going to hurt."

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany

Myers said the upcoming legislative session will be unlike any others in his seven years as a member of the General Assembly.

"With the state facing the deficit that we're going to be dealing with, all areas of the state will be fighting just to hold onto what we've already been promised," said Myers, who is chairman of the Washington County delegation.

In order to protect Washington County's funding, he said it will be important for the local delegation to be on the same page to ensure that local concerns are heard in Annapolis.

Myers said he plans to focus on establishing the details of placing slot machines in Maryland, which voters approved by referendum in November. Myers is opposed to slots, but one of the approved locations for slots is in his district, which includes parts of Allegany County.

Myers said he also has heard from many residents who are concerned about the elimination of the touch-screen voting machines used in the most recent election.

"Why would we spend that much money on different machines when we don't have it?" Myers said.

The General Assembly voted last year to remove those machines and replace them with optical scan voting machines by 2010 -- a decision that will cost the state $30 million. He plans to propose returning to the touch-screen machines favored by many senior citizens.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington

Since last year's session ended, Donoghue said he's chaired a committee examining the shortage of physicians in rural areas of Maryland, including Washington County.

The committee will have some proposals this year to attract more physicians to the local community.

"It's luring people in medical school in Maryland to come out to the rural areas and provide family practice, which is at a shortage, and maybe offer some incentives to them with student loans (and other items)," Donoghue said.

He also will work to protect a prescription drug program that allows low-income residents to gain access to medicine through a partnership with pharmaceutical companies.

One of Donoghue's broader concerns is the state's budget, which he says he will approve.

"As the only Democrat in the legislature from Washington County, I think it's going to be imperative that I fight very hard for everything that we need up here," he said. "Some are constantly criticizing the governor, and that does not help. That hurts Washington County. I'm going to use my 20 years of experience and relationships to make sure that Washington County doesn't get punished because of the actions and words of a few in the delegation."

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