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General Assembly finds programs benefiting county too taxing

January 16, 2012
  • Tim Rowland
Tim Rowland

How great is this? The Maryland General Assembly session isn’t even a week old and already the fighting has begun. Even better, the fighting hasn’t even involved any of the lawmakers yet.

This is hard to figure. I mean, isn’t this the point where the Donoraptor and Shankasaurus are usually up on their hind feet raging at each other across the primeval swamp that is Annapolis?

But no. They’ve even been agreeing on some policy matters of late, which kind of weirds me out.

Instead, it seems as if we have two virtual delegations whose goals are basically to defeat each other’s goals. What goals would these be? Well, it’s kind of hard to tell, since one group of hooded, secret-handshake types — much resembling the Stonecutters on “The Simpsons” — met at the local golf course to talk of many things: of shoes and ships and gasoline tax, etc.

(The gasoline tax got the ink, anyway, but the line item that got my attention was the proposal to move the Board of Education downtown. Please, please do this. Or move it somewhere, anywhere — and then dynamite the old central office. I’ve been in half century-old, termite-infested doublewides that made me feel more secure than the central office, and every time I leave, I’m gratified that a stairwell didn’t cave in on me.)

But back on point, somehow word of the secret meeting leaked out, and got splashed all over the news. This seemed to annoy another group of Ostrich People who do not quite like to believe that life exists outside of Washington County.

Either the Ostrich People were disturbed about the Stonecutters’ apparent end-run around the delegation or felt left out because their opinions weren’t taken seriously.

It might or might not have any connection, but the following Tuesday, Washington County Commissioners President Terry Baker went off on a proposal to contribute funds to help pay for a lobbying effort that promotes Western Maryland interests, even though the county has always participated in the past.

Baker’s primary complaint seemed to be that the Western Maryland lobbying effort included a reception in Annapolis where al-kee-hol would be served. Baker said this was “appalling,” and I have to agree. To my knowledge, this would have been the first time in the history of Maryland state government that liquor would have come within 10 miles of any legislative function.

Worse, if Western Maryland lobbyists had introduced alcohol to Annapolis, where would it end? Pretty soon, some copycat lobbyist would want to have beer or wine at his reception, too. And then Annapolis restaurants would start wanting to sell liquor at legislative dinners, and then taverns would open for business, and why would that be bad, Terry?

Because “I certainly don’t want anyone drinking alcohol, wheeling and dealing, giving my county away just to get a project,” Baker said.

Boy howdy. If you have ever lost a county in a drunken poker game, you know the remorse you feel when you wake up in the morning to find your landfill’s missing.

The Ostrich People’s (in)action, of course, left the Stonecutters wondering if half of our leaders in Washington County have ever set foot outside of it.

But Baker was not alone; Commissioner Jeff Cline smelled a conspiracy as well: “I’m not sure any of these funding partners will not go ahead and say, ‘We support a gas tax’ and just change (the lobbying agenda) to try to get some of these projects funded,” Cline said.

In other words, as commissioners representing the people of Washington County, they don’t want to get tricked into doing anything from which Washington County might benefit. Or maybe they fear the old bait and switch — Hagerstown’s secret Stonecutter society is just using “local projects” as cover for its real agenda, which is to make everyone in the state pay higher prices for gasoline.

So here we have the backdrop to the 2012 session. And the lawmakers themselves haven’t even gotten involved yet. It’s going to be a good year, I can tell.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or via email at timr@herald-mail.com. Tune in to the Rowland Rant at www.herald-mail.com, on antpod.com or on Antietam Cable’s WCL-TV Channel 30 at 6:30 p.m. New episodes are released every Wednesday.

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