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Advertise on the Tentacle

April 6, 2009

General Assembly Journal 2009 Volume 10

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

One week left, and the plate’s still pretty full. Major issues remain to be settled, yet the 426th Session of the Maryland General Assembly adjourns Sine Die a week from today.


According to the state constitution, the state budget must either be adopted by today, or Gov. Martin O’Malley is required to issue an order requiring that the session be extended.


That doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll still be here on April 14, just that if the differences can’t be resolved by midnight on the 13th, we don’t get to pack up and leave. Not to worry, the Senate and House budget conference committee met this weekend to resolve their differences.


On the House side, a major reduction in funding for local government takes the form of a reduction in the amount of income tax sent back to the counties. Referred to as the piggyback tax, this is that share of your state income tax that you had to add depending on your county of residence.


The last time the state raided this piggyback tax was in the early 90’s, which was also the last time the state faced a major budget shortfall. William Donald Schaefer was governor, and this decision to raid local revenue was very controversial. It is this time, too!


The Senate took a different tack. The cuts there are specific, with major reductions in Open Space funding, libraries, education, and highway user revenue.


The conference committee likely had that disagreement resolved by the end of the weekend. A tougher issue may be the question of upgrading the Medevac helicopter fleet.


The House position, previously reported here, was to create a Joint Oversight Committee to manage the protocols, methods, and equipment moving forward. The House also recommended jumpstarting the fleet replacement, by purchasing three new helicopters with capital budget funding this year.


The Senate was not as convinced on replacement and didn’t approve any purchase. An amendment to wait two years to do anything was defeated; but the difference remains.


That’s not the only disparity between the two legislative bodies, though. Several major policy differences remain. The Senate approved sweeping enabling legislation that will allow speed monitoring cameras in any jurisdiction that chooses to use them. The House position was more limited, with enabling legislation passed for Howard and Prince George’s County, along with the existing pilot in Montgomery County.


Last week saw a flap over a plan to screen a big budget XXX rated film at the Student Center at the University of Maryland. The student government approved the film’s screening, and at least initially, the Chancellor and Board of Governors seemed supportive of the students’ decision.


All of that changed during a Senate floor debate last Wednesday. Sen. Andy Harris (R., Baltimore/Harford) was outraged that his state university would allow a porno film to be shown to students, and indicated that he would bring a motion to withhold all funding for the University system unless and until the school announced their decision to stop the screening.


Thank goodness for Andy Harris and his morality! Imagine the horror! A bunch of libidinous 20-somethings gathered together, sans parental influence, hormones raging while watching images sure to cause them to do what they’re probably already inclined to do.


I understand the objection. It probably wasn’t the smartest thing for the University system leaders to allow; but I’m sure they were worried about freedom of speech political correctness and remained silent.


Mr. Harris, fresh off his stunning come from ahead loss to Frank Kratovil for the first congressional district of Maryland, never saw a media opportunity he didn’t fall in love with. This one had front-page written all over it, and Senator Harris leapt into the glare of the lights.


His brave defense of the souls of those students, spoken from the floor of the Maryland Senate, echoed all the way up Route 1 to College Park. Chancellor Brit Kirwin, never one to miss a legislative signal, quickly abandoned the previous position and suggested that the film would not be shown, citing reasons other than those enumerated by Andy Harris. No one’s fooled, though. Chalk this one up as a Harris victory. Goodness knows he needed one!


Frederick County had its own little Annapolis controversy in the last few weeks. Sen. Alex Mooney (R., Frederick/Washington) became an environmental activist this year, so green that he blends into the slowly unveiling tree canopy along Rowe Boulevard.


In the seven years I’ve been here, I would never have referred to Alex as an environmental advocate. Not that he’s been anti-environment, but neither has he led the charge on pollution, Bay clean-up, airborne effluent, or any other major environment issue.


The possibility of the Board of County Commissioners building a Waste-to-Energy plant in his district changed all that, though. He has rallied civic activists, attended public hearings (but not spoken), and drafted late-filed bills to stop these plants in their tracks.


He’s not offering solutions to the growing trash problem, just bills to prevent one potential solution. I’m not entirely sure that qualifies for environmental activism. I know it makes the anti-incinerator crowd happy; anyone who does or says anything negative about an incinerator garners their support.


His bill’s hearing featured a dozen anti-incinerator speakers, including Commissioner Kai Hagen and Monocacy Battlefield Superintendent Susan Trail. Would someone please tell her how silly she sounds yammering about impacts to the historic battlefield view shed when a major interstate highway runs right through the middle of it! Not to mention the smokestacks from Tamko and Eastalco and the county water tower up at Route 85!


The other county commissioners had considered sending a representative to present their opposition to Senator Mooney’s bill, but they settled for sending a letter to the committee members expressing their concerns.


In his commentary back at Winchester Hall, shrinking violet Commissioner Lennie Thompson mentioned the lynch mob mentality as a reason not to send an opponent. And I thought he loved a fight!


I’ll be very surprised if Senator Mooney’s bill passes the Senate, even if it makes it out of the committee. At the end of the day, I’m not sure he ever really cared about the bill’s passage. I don’t think he was ever in it for the legislation, or even for the protection of the environment, or the battlefield view shed.


This was about politics, pure and simple.


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