ANNAPOLIS – The slow pace and grinding over issues during this year’s Maryland General Assembly had some Eastern Shore delegates and senators calling the legislative session “unusual” and “frustrating.”
But Eastern Shore legislators were mostly pleased with the delegation’s successes.
The One Maryland program, designed to spark economic development in the state’s most distressed areas – Dorchester, Somerset, Worcester, Caroline, Allegany and Garrett counties and Baltimore City – through tax credits and other incentives, was applauded by Shore members.
“Anything we can do to spur a good, sound economy with good paying jobs is important to the area,” said Delegate Adelaide C. Eckardt, R-Dorchester. “It went well for the Eastern Shore.”
Eckardt was also successful in passing legislation to create a task force to look at state and federal options for preventing shore erosion.
“That fits in pretty well with maintaining the water quality of the bay,” she said. “The sea level is rising and that means you’re eroding more and that’s a real concern.”
Several other Eastern Shore projects won funding. They include renovation of several facilities, including an armory in Denton, McCready Hospital in Crisfield and a theater in Avalon; upgrading sewer and water plants in Willards and Pittsville to help fight pollution in the Pocomoke River; and constructing a youth center in Salisbury.
The legislature also approved $500,000 for a courthouse addition in Snowhill.
A number of education bills, which will provide funding for a new science building at Salisbury State University; new projects at the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore; incentives for students to become teachers and a class- size reduction, also were lauded by Shore members.
“We’ll have a top-notch education system from kindergarten through college-level with or without cigarette tax funding,” Eckardt said.
The Shore delegation, with the exception of Delegate Rudolph C. Cane, D- Wicomico, opposed the cigarette tax, designed to reduce teenage smoking by raising the price of cigarettes. Glendening requested a $1 cigarette tax, but the General Assembly passed a 30-cent tax instead.
“All it will do is force people to go across the state line to buy cigarettes,” said Charles McClenahan, R-Somerset. Virginia and Delaware’s cigarette tax is considerably less, he said.
With the state running a $222 million surplus, Maryland should give its citizens a break, others say.
“At a time when we’re awash in cash, talk about a tax increase is unreasonable,” said Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Somerset.
Some delegates weren’t satisfied with the overall session. Delegate Mary Roe Walkup, R-Kent, sponsored five bills to address the dumping of dredge material. All were killed, including one that proposed Aberdeen Proving Ground as a potential dumping site.
“It was very disappointing to me to get that killed,” she said. “It wasn’t given a favorable hearing” in the Senate.
She will pursue the legislation again next year, she said.
“The session was most unusual,” Walkup said. “There was a lot of pulling and tugging. We were trying to do too much in a short time compared to the enormity of some of the legislation passed.”
The session differed from previous sessions because of the budget surplus, said Delegate Norman H. Conway, D-Wicomico, chairman of the Eastern Shore delegation.
“It’s been a very unusual session…because there was a lot of money. That changed the dynamics,” he said. Some issues that should have received priority, didn’t, Conway said.
The governor’s budget and agenda created obstacles for legislators, Stoltzfus said.
“It was a frustrating session as a member of Budget and Tax because the budget came in so far out of line – a 7 percent increase over last year’s budget. It was very frustrating to get it down … but we succeeded and in that sense it was a success.” he said.
The governor agenda’s was also extreme, he said.
The agenda was “way liberal,” Stoltzfus said. “It was necessary for us to bring it back to where Maryland citizens are. I think the legislature did that.”
As a Republican, he said he was pleased that the governor’s proposed spending budget was reduced; that the gay rights bill, which would have prohibited certain crimes against another person based on sexual orientation, was killed; and that the cigarette tax was reduced.
“As an individual, I was disappointed in some things,” he said. “It was a mixed bag. I think everybody can claim a little some success.”