ANNAPOLIS – The Eastern Shore delegation is united for strength and has a plan for the Maryland General Assembly’s 2000 session: pass legislation against open bay dumping, battle Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s smart-gun legislation, secure money for school renovation and construction, and demand an alternative funding source for the state’s mass transit systems.
The Eastern Shore delegation sat attentively as re-appointed House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, opened the General Assembly Wednesday. The state’s $925 million surplus is a chance to ease poverty, ignorance and disease in the state, he said, without “leaving some of our most vulnerable citizens behind.”
But they really liked hearing his commitment to rescind the state’s inheritance tax and accelerate the 10 percent income tax reduction before its proposed 2002 finish.
“With a billion-dollar surplus,” Eastern Shore delegation Chairman Sen. Richard F. Colburn, R-Dorchester, said, “the only real solution is to give it back to the people we took it from.”
The Eastern Shore delegation had reason to open the session with confidence.
The Senate and House addressed four bills Wednesday that either prohibit or postpone dumping 18 million cubic yards of dredge from the Port of Baltimore into the Chesapeake Bay north of the Bay Bridge, a spot dubbed Site 104.
Eastern Shore delegates and senators have sponsored three of the four bills and support among the delegation is virtually unanimous. Proponents of dumping argue Site 104 is the only place for the dredge and therefore the only option if the port is to remain economically viable. But the Eastern Shore delegation is concerned with the health of the bay.
“Dumping the dredge is the easiest and cheapest method. But it’s not the best, and we are going to end up paying for it in the long run if we don’t find an alternative,” Colburn said.
The General Assembly is expecting a report from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers by the end of the month that will explain dredge-dumping hazards to aquatic life and the bay ecosystem.
With the large budget surplus and $4.4 billion in tobacco settlements expected to fill the state government’s pockets, the Eastern Shore delegation will demand its share for crowded and run-down school buildings.
“Closets are being used because classrooms are too full.” said Eastern Shore delegation Chairman Delegate Norman H. Conway, D-Wicomico. “Sooner or later we are going to have to face the piper,” he said. “And we are there.” Wicomico County will need $10 million to $13 million for schools, and Somerset and Worcester will need just as much, he said.
Population growth on the Eastern Shore continues to tax wastewater systems that rural residents can’t afford to renovate.
“Wastewater treatment system upgrades need to be in place,” said Conway, “and population growth needs to be directed to where the current systems can handle the growth.”
Colburn and Conway also said improving the shore’s highways is imperative. Route 113 and 404 require medians and lane additions.
Delegate Wheeler R. Baker, D-Queen Anne’s, will push for more overpasses on Route 50 near Ocean City to smooth tourist and local traffic.
But the delegation is eager to ease the mass-transit burden on rural residents who have no access to the Metro or light rail systems, but pay for mass transit through a 23.5-cents-per-gallon gas tax, the state’s current method of transportation funding.
Conway and Colburn support Taylor’s proposal to devote 1 cent of the 5- cent sales tax to mass transit over the next 10 years at a rate of one-tenth of a cent each year.
The plan would provide about $500 million for the state’s already stressed roads and mass transit systems.
The delegation plans to fight Glendening on his “smart-gun” legislation. Technology for “smart-guns,” which use computer chips to prevent unauthorized users from firing the gun, is not adequate, the delegation’s chairmen agree.
“Until the technology is there,” said Conway, “I am going to be very leery.”