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Lobbying coalition releases wish list

Civil War marketing, tax credits are among coalition's priorities

December 02, 2011|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com

A local lobbying coalition plans to ask for state money for a road extension project and to market the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

The coalition also will push for tax-credit changes that could benefit Washington County, although state legislators suggested that restructuring Maryland's tax code might be more effective.

The Washington County Community Lobbying Coalition, made up of several local government and nonprofit entities, decides each year on a handful of priorities before the Maryland General Assembly convenes in January.

For 2012, the coalition has four requests and has placed eight other topics on a "watch list" to monitor for opportunities and developments.

The coalition presented its legislative package Friday to the Washington County delegation at a meeting at Robinwood Medical Center.

The request list includes:

• Having the state work with Washington County and the city of Hagerstown on preliminary engineering and investigation of widening and extending Professional Court and building a bridge over Antietam Creek. The cost of the preliminary phase is estimated to be $500,000. The overall project cost is an estimated $15.1 million.

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• Asking the state, through legislation, to give $50,000 to the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area to market sesquicentennial events in Washington County.

• Changing the One Maryland Tax Credit, particularly the definition of a "distressed county." To qualify for the credit now, a county must have an average unemployment rate for the past 24 months that's 150 percent of the state's average rate. Washington County has one of the state's highest unemployment rates, but, like most other counties, wouldn't qualify.

• Create a new jobs tax credit for small businesses. The state's Businesses That Create New Jobs Tax Credit has requirements that might be too tough for small businesses to meet, the coalition said.
Sen. Christopher B. Shank said there's a movement to look more broadly at overall tax structure and fairness, which would be more substantial than tweaking tax credits.

A "game changer," he said, would be for Maryland to lower its corporate tax rate, allowing it to compete better with neighboring states.

The coalition's eight "watch list" items are:

• Protect Washington County's tip-jar gaming system, in which proceeds are distributed locally to nonprofit organizations and to fire and rescue organizations.

Del. Andrew A. Serafini, the delegation chairman, said a bill will be submitted in the next legislative session tightening the system for tip-jar gaming. A series of Herald-Mail stories has raised questions about the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association's role in distributing tip-jar proceeds to volunteer companies.

Shank said there must be "accountability, oversight and transparency."

• Protect operational funding for the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown, which has survived attempts to make cuts in recent years.

• Protect operational funding for Hagerstown Community College.

• Watch for possible funding to renovate Municipal Stadium, home of the Hagerstown Suns.

• Secure funding to reconstruct the officers' quarters at Fort Frederick State Park.

• Resist efforts to shift state obligations, such as pensions, to local governments.

• Watch how PlanMaryland, a statewide growth and preservation plan, is carried out.

• Monitor U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mandates on the Chesapeake Bay's "pollution diet."
The coalition expects to hold its annual "Day in Annapolis" on Feb. 1.

Coalition members will meet with key legislators, have lunch with the delegation and, for the first time, hold an open reception showcasing Washington County's attributes.

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