ANNAPOLIS – Western Maryland lawmakers are optimistic about the 1998 General Assembly, mainly because of a projected $260 million budget surplus.
Del. D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington, said the good times that come from the surplus can make things a lot easier, but the question of what to do with the surplus remains.
Some members of the delegation favor using some of the money on one-time expenses and returning a portion of it to the people through tax breaks. Others feel they should be more cautious, saving the money for the future.
“I’m all for giving it back to the taxpayer in one form or another,” said Del. Paul Stull, R-Frederick.
Stull said he does not think stockpiling the surplus is in the best interest of the state. He would like to see it used to reduce property or income taxes and to catch up with the need for schools in his rapidly growing county.
While Del. Betty Workman, D-Allegany, warned against overspending, the former teacher supports using a portion of the surplus to promote education. She also favors saving some of the money for tougher times in the future.
“I am a great believer in saving for a rainy day,” Workman said.
“We have to be very careful how we handle the surplus,” said Del. George Edwards, R-Garrett, who is chairman of the Western Maryland delegation.
Edwards recommended investing some of the money in one-time expenses and giving some back to the taxpayers in the form of reduced income taxes.
Members of the delegation said they are also concerned about Pfiesteria piscicida, a toxic microbe that has so far affected only the Eastern Shore. Western Maryland lawmakers are worried that agricultural regulations in response to pfiesteria could have repercussions on farmers in their districts.
Several delegates said they will closely watch efforts to join either the Northeast Dairy Compact or the Southeast Dairy Compact, in an effort to protect dairy farmers by establishing wholesale prices.
Pennsylvania has such a commission, leading farmers there to dump their excess milk in Maryland, where there are no price restrictions. That increases the supply here and drives down the price farmers receive.
Stull said most dairy farmers in Frederick are leaning toward joining the Northeast group, composed of New England states.
Poole said another concern is the taxing on Washington County’s “tip jar” gambling. Players spent more than $55 million in 1996 on the raffle-like games. Players buy numbered paper tickets, usually for $1, and can win cash prizes if they matched numbered tickets pulled from the jar.
The games, which are supposed to benefit charities, typically offer prizes from $10 to $100.
But the surplus remains the main issue for Western Maryland lawmakers.
Del. David Brinkley, R-Frederick, supports the idea of returning some of the surplus to taxpayers, by speeding up the income tax cuts that were approved last year.
He also supports one-time projects and said that while other counties need renovation to existing buildings, Frederick needs to build new buildings to accommodate their needs.
“I would like to see it in one-time education and transportation projects,” Brinkley said.
Workman recommends some investment in business and some kind of return to the people, most likely through a reduction in the state’s real estate tax and a bulking up the state’s Rainy Day Fund.
Like Workman, Sen. John Hafer, R-Allegany, also supported investing in the Rainy Day Fund. He proposed putting one-third of the surplus into the fund, a third in one-time expenditures and spending the final third on school and library enhancement.