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Teamwork is key for 2012 session

August 19, 2011

The 2012 legislative session is still five months away, but if it wasn’t clear before, recent events should remind all local office-holders and other interested parties with business before the General Assembly that it is not too soon to begin coordinating their efforts for the benefit of the people of Washington County.

Local senior citizens were stung last week by the news that funding for a new senior center will be delayed into 2012, which should be a warning shot of things to come if we don’t rally our troops.

Not so long ago, the Maryland treasury was flush and Washington County had a powerful senator on the state Budget and Tax Committee who saw to it that we were spared the indignities of having our cash sent elsewhere.

Those advantages do not exist today, so the slack must be picked up in other ways, and one of those ways is teamwork.

Along with our lawmakers, whose specific job is to represent our people in Annapolis, several other voices have come along to assist. The Greater Hagerstown Committee, the Chamber of Commerce and paid lobbyists on behalf of local governments have all lined up to help out, and this year their assistance will be more important than ever.

A legislative coalition of interested parties has recommended funding priorities since 2006, and along with the delegation it has had its share of success, including the renovation of the Washington County Free Library, which is currently under way.

Last year, however, the Washington County delegation to Annapolis straight-out told local interests not to ask them for anything because the state was broke and no one was going to get a nickel. Events proved otherwise. The state might have been strapped, but that did not prevent other counties from continuing their projects apace, as Washington County sat on the sidelines.

This year, that defeatist, “can’t win, don’t try” attitude must cease. Lawmakers who were then new to their posts have had a year to learn the ropes and those whose candidates did not win last fall — and washed their hands of the whole process — have had a year to get over their grudges.

On the other side, local governments cannot leave lawmakers in the lurch by waiting until the last minute to take their concerns to Annapolis, or (the county’s storied excise tax comes to mind) appear to be divided, or not know exactly what they want in the first place.

For Washington County to push forward this winter, all hands must be on deck, politics notwithstanding. Our lawmakers are not wrong to suggest that money is tight. It is tight, but it does still exist. So while our expectations should not be low, they should be focused. Half measures aimed at a wide number of projects are unlikely to go anywhere.

We believe the coalition and lawmakers should select a few choice measures early and then begin to coordinate their efforts in support of those measures now. This means, for example, that county energy is needed in support of city initiatives and vice versa.

It might also mean that private citizens who have never appeared before the legislature could be called on to support those initiatives that matter most to our county. We should not wait until a month into the session to begin lining up these voices.

For better or worse, the days when times were good and we could sit back and rely on the delegation to do the heavy lifting are gone. That’s not entirely a bad thing, if it brings more people into the process. In any event, it is going to take a lot of work by a lot of people, and that is a job that should start immediately.

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