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Excuses ready, area lawmakers head to Annapolis

February 27, 2009

It is a new year and a new legislative session has begun. In a testament to the ineffectiveness of Washington County's General Assembly delegation, virtually every interest group in the county has hired a lobbyist to bring back a fair share of state tax dollars.

The list includes: the Chamber of Commerce, the Board of Education, the City of Hagerstown, environmental groups, historic preservation groups and practically any group hoping to fund the many needs of this community.

Our delegation, through both Democratic and Republican administrations, has failed to bring home a fair share of state tax revenue.

Every year members go to Annapolis and every year they come back with little more than an excuse. Some delegation members sacrifice the needs of Washington County for partisan political agendas and personal aggrandizement rather than fight for those they were elected to represent.

Members have already started lowering expectations, our delegation pointing out the obvious fact that the state budget will be tight and it will be difficult to fund everything.

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The tight budget excuse would be plausible if you ignored the history. While Parris Glendening was governor, the regional economy boomed and tax revenue soared.

The State of Maryland was giving out money as fast as lawmakers could ask for it. Delegations elsewhere brought home record levels of school construction money, farm preservation money as well as money for roads and sewage treatment plant upgrades.

What about our delegation? Rather than work for Washington County's fair share of this funding feast, Chris Shank and Alex Mooney were busy waging a battle against the nonexistent problem of gay, lesbian and transgendered teachers. It might be in Mooney's and Shank's political interest to cater to religious extremists, it is not in the interest of Washington County.

When you consider that the governor had a gay brother and the rest of the state does not share such views, it is not surprising that Washington County was left out of the feast. Of course, most of our members blamed their ineffectiveness on having a Democratic governor.

That would also be plausible if it were not for the tenure of our recent Republican governor Robert Ehrlich. With Ehrlich, our delegation assured us that we would finally be on the receiving end of government largesse.

To kick off this "era of influence," Del. LeRoy Meyers offered his best proposal since taking office, to have school design and construction standardized as much as possible. A standardized green design would decrease both construction and long-term operational costs.

Unfortunately, rather than building a coalition of counties that would benefit from reduced school construction costs, Mr. Myers decided to join the culture wars and began doing battle against the bull testicle trailer hitch cover.

The much-heralded "era of influence" ended with little more than the mistake of electricity deregulation hitting county residents. Four years of a Republican administration and still little money for schools, roads, farms or infrastructure. Rather than taking a long look in the mirror, our delegation once again blamed the Democrats.

The next election broughtanother Democratic governor. Again, Del. Shank led the battle to make sure Washington County got less than its fair share of state revenue.

This time, he decided to file a frivolous lawsuit. After wasting tens of thousands of dollars and countless hours of legislative time, his lawsuit ended predictably with a loss in the courts.

It might have served Shank's political ambitions, but it was Washington County that paid the price. More moderate members of the delegation (Sen. Don Munson and Del. John Donoghue) are continually forced to spend their time cleaning up others' messes.

Last year's fight to maintain funding for the University Campus downtown was completely avoidable. Political payback is reality in a Democratically dominated state. How else could you explain the failure of "Justice's Law." Had anyone else proposed getting tough on criminals who kill defenseless children, the vote would have been unanimous.

And Del. Shank, instead of protecting victims of abuse, now stands opposed to taking guns from accused wife beaters and other violent criminals. A woman does not get a protective order because her boyfriend called her a name. She gets a protective order because she has been the victim of physical violence. I support Del. Shank's effort to put tracking bracelets on these suspects but why should we allow them to be armed?

Del. Shank needs to begin putting the needs of Washington County above his own partisan political needs.

For the sake of the county, the rest of the delegation should distance themselves from him. He has become partisan political poison.

Joe Lane is a Washington County resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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