ANNAPOLIS – Carroll County lawmakers said Tuesday that the needs of the fast-growing county were largely ignored in an otherwise productive legislative session.
While they hailed extra school construction funds for the county and an accelerated statewide income tax cut statewide, Carroll lawmakers were concerned by the pace of spending this year.
And they complained that, in the rush to help larger or poorer counties with extra state funding, midsized and relatively well-off Carroll was overlooked.
“We only get minuscule amounts,” said Del. Joseph Getty, R- Carroll. “When is a program going to come along that helps growing suburban areas?”
Getty was referring to a $250 million bill that sends extra state money to counties based on the number of at-risk students in their school systems.
“We have one of the lowest percentages of people on public assistance in the state,” said Sen. Larry Haines, R-Carroll. “It’s an entirely different culture up here.”
“The formula was very bad for Carroll County,” Getty agreed.
But, like most other counties in the state, Carroll made out well in the area of school construction funding, as state officials rushed to spend a $260 million surplus.
Sen. Timothy Ferguson, R-Carroll, said he expects the county to get about $5 million dollars in school construction funding when final allocations are announced next month.
But while they were happy to get the money, county lawmakers said they were nervous with the pace of state spending. They welcomed the 5 percent income tax cut but said the state should have kept more money in reserve.
“The governor has been shoving money out the door,” said Getty. “If the stock market continues as it is, we’ll be fine, but if there’s even a small drop, we could have a $300 million deficit next year.”
The county delegation had been frugal in its own spending requests, asking for only one capital project this year. But they failed to get that funding, for a new agricultural center in Westminster Park, because of partisan squabbling in the delegation.
The bill to fund the park had been introduced by Del. Ellen Willis-Miller, the sole Democrat in the delegation, who withdrew it after Westminster Park residents began protesting the project.
The entire delegation then resubmitted the bill — which is the usual practice — but it never got out of the House Appropriations Committee. County Republicans accused Willis- Miller of persuading the Democratic leadership to kill the bill.
“The bill was sabotaged by delegate Willis-Miller,” Haines said.
Willis-Miller said she had concerns about the project and made her views clear to Del. Howard “Pete” Rawlings, D-Baltimore and chairman of the Appropriations Committee. But she said she has also received assurances from Rawlings that the project will be funded next year after the issues are cleared up.
“I’m delighted that Sen. Haines thinks I have that much influence over the committee,” she said. “Why would I do something so unpopular to advance my election campaign?”
While the agricultural center was put on hold, farmers got good and bad news from the General Assembly this year.
Dairy farmers are expected to benefit from a bill adding Maryland to the Northeast Interstate Dairy Compact, which will set minimum wholesale milk prices for the region.
But farmers will have to live by new fertilizer runoff regulations, aimed at controlling outbreaks of the toxic microbe Pfiesteria piscicida.
Overall, however, Ferguson put this session in the win column for Carroll.
“It’s been a very productive session,” he said. “We kept spending down to a minimum … and we made sure we spent the money in common sense ways.”