HAGERSTOWN — An annual review of the state legislative session turned lively Tuesday night, as philosophical differences within the delegation sparked heated debate.
Del. John P. Donoghue was animated in defending decisions he and other Democrats in Annapolis made in crafting and supporting a fiscal 2013 budget plan.
While Republicans noted that the approved “doomsday” budget still means $700 million more spending, Donoghue argued that $500 million in cuts from the projected budget are real and will lead to college tuition increases, police layoffs and rising crime.
Del. Michael J. Hough, one of six Republicans in the delegation, said that only in Maryland would a 1 percent cut in the general fund be called “doomsday.”
Claims that education, fire, police and other services would collapse are “scare tactics” not backed up by actual numbers, Hough said.
Later, Donoghue said Maryland’s budget supports excellent roads, health care and other amenities.
Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr. quipped that Maryland could boast to businesses of high taxes and high regulations, but solid roads.
About 60 people attended the forum at Hagerstown Community College.
For years, the delegation’s post-session report was at a chamber of commerce breakfast with an admission charge.
This year, the delegation wanted an evening forum at no charge, said the delegation chairman, Del. Andrew A. Serafini.
The forum featured lengthy discussions of state spending, planning control and septic systems, plus a host of other issues.
About a dozen people in the audience asked questions or challenged lawmakers to defend their positions.
The evening’s sharpest exchange came after John Benisek stood to compliment Donoghue for reclaiming tax money for Washington County.
Benisek also urged the delegation to have “backbone” and buck future budget and tax increases.
Donoghue then stood and asked Benisek about properties he owns near Donoghue’s home.
“I find knives and bullets and used condoms in the alleyways,” Donoghue said.
From the audience, Tom Janus yelled, “Ad hominem! Ad hominem!,” referring to the logical fallacy of attacking a man instead of his arguments.
Serafini tried to cut in, but Donoghue continued, saying the high number of police calls to Benisek’s properties drains tax dollars.
After the meeting, Benisek said: “Being a property manager or landlord, I take a lot of lumps. Business is tough.”
Benisek said he has asked the police many times to investigate drug complaints near his properties.
“Illegal activity really hurts my business,” he said.
Midway through the forum, Serafini said he’s concerned about the level of heated political rhetoric in the country and congratulated Donoghue for facing the audience despite being in the minority on several viewpoints.