ANNAPOLIS – Tax cuts, state aid to schools, gambling and public safety are the key issues for Harford and Baltimore county legislators as the 1997 General Assembly opens its 90-day session.
Del. Joseph J. Minnick, Baltimore County delegation’s House chair, said the region would profit by the election of Del. Thomas Dewberry, D-Baltimore County, to speaker pro tem, the second-highest position in the House.
“We haven’t been getting our fair share of things in the past couple of years,” Minnick said. “We are starting a new strategy this term where we will all work together as a team, Republicans and Democrats, and with Tom in a top leadership position it helps our cause.”
Minnick said Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s proposed 10 percent income tax cut would be good for the state, and he hopes that despite “bad economic times,” lawmakers can pull it off.
“I am assured by the money people that it could work,” Minnick said. “No matter how small it is — it could be one payment on your car — every little bit helps.”
Minnick said the main issue during this session is school aid.
“For about the last two decades we have educated 12 percent of kids in the state, for which we received 5 percent of state school aid,” Minnick said. “Last year we received $15 million in aid, this year we are asking for $25 million, which is our fair share.”
Minnick said the added funds are needed for reconstruction and building new schools for growing areas like White Marsh and Owings Mills.
Sen. Michael Collins, D-Baltimore County, agreed that state aid, particularly for education, was a priority issue. He also said the tax cut is a good idea, but that legislators have to ensure its affordability.
“I’m confident that after the House and the Senate look at the issue and various proposals have been made to make sure it is affordable, it will be approved even if it means looking at increased tobacco tax and sales tax,” Collins said.
Contrary to Collins and Minnick, Del. Samuel (Sandy) Rosenberg, D-Baltimore County, said there could not be a tax cut as it now reads.
“It leaves us with a big deficit down the road,” Rosenberg said. “Something that has to be looked at to improve it is additional revenues.”
Del. James Harkins, R-Harford, said he needed more facts before he would approve the tax cut. He said some revenue sources to make up for the cuts were “palatable,” such as downsizing government, but he still wanted specifics.
Sen. David Craig, R-Harford, also raised concerns, particularly over Glendening’s plan to phase in the cut over three years.
“If we’re going to do it, then do it now,” Craig said. “However, if we are doing this to attract new businesses, then we should go to new businesses and ask what they need. Is it a tax cut or is it something else?”
Craig said gambling was a key issue, given the many horse farmers and racers in his area.
“It is proposed to expand gambling by putting slot machines in our race tracks,” Craig said. “We have many horse farms, which in turn are resources for hay farmers and veterinarians. There are present sources such as lottery money, but if we follow Delaware’s model we will see the doom of horse racing.”
Delaware has installed slot machines at tracks, and uses slots revenue to increase the purse for races.
“The people that play slot machines go for the slot machines, not the horse racing,” Craig said. “If you put in slot machines then you won’t need the horse racing.”
Harkins also brought up education and public safety.
“Harford County is a growth area,” Harkins said. “One school will need to be built every year for the next ten years in order to accommodate the growth. Roads will also need to be constructed to handle the numbers of new people going from one place to the next.”
With growth, he said, come concerns about crime. “Our state police barracks are extremely understaffed,” Harkins said. “We are building a new barracks in Bel Air, but the number of troopers are significantly down because of cuts during the early 1990s. We need to increase the number to the previous level.” -30-