Lawmakers say they worked for county, local business community
By Ed Waters Jr. News-Post Staff | Posted: Wednesday, April 30, 2014 2:00 am
The dreary weather Tuesday morning gave plenty of ammunition for members of the Frederick County Delegation to talk about the “rain tax,” among other issues.
The delegation met with members of the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce to look back on the 2014 session of the General Assembly and offer some thoughts about the upcoming elections.
“There’s our revenue coming down outside,” said Sen. David Brinkley, pointing out the windows of the Delaplaine Visual Arts Education Center, referring to the stormwater management fee.
Efforts had been made to exempt Frederick County, as well as Carroll and Harford counties, from the tax, which covers runoff of stormwater and whatever is on the land into waterways and eventually ending up in the Chesapeake Bay.
“It is always easy to come up with names for something you don’t like,” said Sen. Ron Young. “But the stormwater tax is designed to keep sediment from the Chesapeake Bay.”
Delegate Donald Elliott said money was taken out of funds for the bay to help balance the general fund budget and replaced with the sale of bonds for the bay fund.
The increased spending and indebtedness of the state will mean increased state property taxes, said Elliott, one of three legislators at the event who are not seeking re-election.
Brinkley emphasized the need for legislators to work together.
“I disagree with Obamacare, but I supported legislation for people who were trying to get health care and were unable to do so.” The state’s health care program has been riddled with problems. Brinkley said there is an ongoing investigation and cited incompetence as part of the problem.
“We spent a half billion dollars for 13,000 less people who have insurance than when we started. Is that an appropriate way to spend taxpayers’ dollars?” said Delegate Michael Hough.
A major topic of discussion was the proposed hotel-conference center for downtown Frederick.
Young said that at this point there are no specifics, and he would like specifics before pushing the issue further.
“We don’t know what the city is going to pay, where is the exact site, we need concrete information. We haven’t gotten to that point,” Young said.
Delegate Patrick Hogan, another lawmaker who isn’t running again, advised those on the committee for the proposed conference center to talk with the next governor and legislators before the budget process starts.
Delegate Galen Clagett, another lawmaker bowing out of the General Assembly, said he was disappointed that he was unable to get a decrease in the corporate tax. Other lawmakers agreed that Maryland needs to become more business-friendly. Higher taxes and regulations may push businesses from locating in the state with competition from surrounding states in lower costs.
Hough noted what he called “weird” bills passed this session.
“We had to make the Happy Meals unhappy bill, saying only water or skim milk could be in a children’s meal, let the parents decide what they want their children to drink. And while they did that, the state decriminalized marijuana everywhere, no restrictions in schools. And the bathroom bill.”
Hough said the latter would have an effect on businesses as they would have to allow a transgender person to use the restroom of their choice, or the business would have to put in another restroom for choice.
The passage of the minimum-wage increase will affect businesses and families, said Delegate Kelly Schulz. Young said the wage will be good for businesses, but Brinkley said it should be a federal issue. By making the wage increase the same for all states, it would remove another obstacle Maryland has to overcome when working to become business-friendly and competing with surrounding states with lower minimum wages.
Schulz pointed to innovations such as farm breweries that are drawing people from outside Maryland to see advances in the state and boost tourism.
When asked about priorities, Hough said the state must not only cut taxes, but also rampant spending. “It is difficult to say ‘No,’ but you have to do it,” Hough said of spending, even to projects that may benefit communities.
The lawmakers touted the partnership of business and education in the state. Young said he has pushed for a graduate-level center for technical education.
When asked about the change in Frederick County to a charter form of government, the lawmakers said they would work with the new system.
“What matters is who is elected,” Hogan said. “How well do they work with others, will they stand up for their principles but be willing to work on differences.”
Clagett said he had pushed for charter government since 1966, through failed attempts before the vote last year.
Interviewed after the event, Jeanette Ortiz, a consultant with Greenwill Consulting, the chamber’s lobbyists, said 30 percent of the Maryland General Assembly will be new in 2015 as some current lawmakers chose not to run and others may be voted out.
Theresa Alban, superintendent of Frederick County Public Schools, complimented the delegation on its support for education.