ANNAPOLIS – In a session of legislative largesse, Howard County lawmakers secured at least $34 million in state funding for roads, schools, and the purchase of the historic Smith Farm.
But they are hoping more state money can still come their way.
House delegation leader Del. Shane Pendergrass, D-District 13, said the county is slated to receive $6 million in school funds, but that figure could grow as state negotiators finish parceling out school appropriations.
“This year we have a record amount of money – $220 million – for state spending on schools,” she said. “Howard County should have a record year also.”
“We’re hopeful that we receive upwards of $10 (million) to $15 million,” said Sen. Christopher J. McCabe, R-District 14, and chair of the county’s Senate delegation.
“When it comes to local needs, we’re pretty unified,” said McCabe of the delegation’s six Democrats and five Republicans.
McCabe said that bipartisanship is evident in the $23 million the county will get to improve interchanges on routes 29, 216 and 175. Those projects are not in his district, he said, but he and other delegation members are willing to look at countywide funding priorities.
“As with schools, on roads, we look for where the needs are,” McCabe said.
Agreements were especially easy to come by because of the state budget surplus.
When county officials came asking for $4 million to help acquire the 300-acre Smith Farm in Columbia, for example, Gov. Parris Glendening unexpectedly set aside $5 million. The county is currently negotiating with the landowners on a final price for the farm, which would be turned into a public park.
Del. Elizabeth Bobo, D-District 12B, hailed the expected purchase of the farm. The former county executive said it was the last chance to save the property in the middle of Columbia from development.
But the fast growth of state spending this year on initiatives outside of Howard County concerned McCabe and Del. Robert Kittleman, R-District 14B.
“We probably don’t participate in the feeding trough like some (other counties) do,” said Kittleman. But the legislature “passed a tremendous amount of money … and what we’ve done budget-wise is build a horrible hole” that will need to be funded in coming years, he said.
Each lawmaker has identified priorities for next session – Bobo wants to address rising bank fees, Pendergrass is concerned with road congestion and McCabe wants to thwart legal gambling. But all face re-election first and, though they have just returned home from Annapolis, constituent events begin as early this weekend.
Still, they are taking some time to bask in the session’s success, knowing that come fall, tighter state purse strings might make for harder legislative decisions.
“I’m one happy delegate,” said Pendergrass.