ANNAPOLIS – Del. Robert Frank summed up Baltimore County’s priorities for the 1998 General Assembly session in three words.
“Education, education and education,” the Democrat said Wednesday as the 90-day session convened.
His fellow county legislators agreed, adding that they expect a smooth session.
“We did very well last session and we hope to hold our own as well this session,” said Del. John S. Arnick, a Democrat.
Sen. Norman Stone Jr., another Democrat, hopes to “accelerate the tax relief. I want to step it up to three years instead of five.”
Stone referred to the 1997 law that began reducing Marylanders’ income tax bills as of Jan. 1, 1998. Ultimately, the changes will reduce the average tax bill by 10 percent.
But Stone also echoed the education refrain. So did Republican Del. Martha Klima.
Klima, who claims she doesn’t complain unless she sees someone getting the short end of the stick, said she’s frustrated by what she sees as a serious inequity in the division of higher education funding.
“Towson State is like a distant poor cousin of the University System of Maryland,” she said. “I see the inequities of the system and it just seems that it should be more equitable.”
Klima said that until she called system Chancellor Donald Langenberg, Towson State’s stadium didn’t have bathrooms. The facilities are being installed now, she said.
Del. Mike Finifter, a Democrat, said the county delegation last year asked for $25 million to fund secondary school continuous improvement. This year, he said, the request is $32 million.
Finifter said Baltimore County is seeking $8 to $9 million from the state’s estimated $260 million budget surplus to aid at- risk and failing students.
Some county legislators expressed concern about the surplus.
Klima called it a disaster.
“This is like Christmas after the fact,” she said. “And the governor is running around from county to county saying `ho, ho, ho,’ and reaching into his duffel bag. And that’s money that should go back into the pocket of the taxpayer.”
Arnick said he’d prefer a more conservative course of action, such as putting some of the surplus aside for any future deficit.
“If you have it you don’t have to spend it,” he said.
Del. James Ports Jr., a Republican, joined Frank, Finifter and Stone in saying that at least some of the surplus should be returned to the taxpayer, whether via a credit or a cut.
Ports said that his priority for his district, other than education, is improving state Route 43.
Because several industrial corporations have left the west side, people in Essex need to get to jobs out of the area, Ports said. Route 43 will help.