Potomac’s representatives to the Maryland General Assembly went to Annapolis last week to begin a 90-day session. Here are a few of their comments last week as they began the session.
Sen. Rob Garagiola (D)
The Budget: “Big picture I think we’re still looking at a structural deficit as far as the eye can see. The following year I think it’s about a billion-dollar shortfall. The bottom line is that we either need to find a more significant revenue source or make big cuts.
“[Ehrlich’s] budget’s going to come out about a week after we come back in session. The Maryland Governor, when it comes to the budget authority, has significant power compared to other states. … We can only make reductions. We can’t add to any line item unless we provide another revenue source.”
COMMENTS: “Another big issue is health care, both from a perspective of the rising number of uninsured but also it’s become so expensive for those who do have health care in one form or another.
“I hear from constituents about how health care costs are going up for them. … I see that issue looming, and I think the longer we don’t deal with it, its going to get to be a bigger and bigger issue.”
Del Jean Cryor (R)
THE BUDGET: “This is truly good news. I sit on Ways and Means and when I wrote my letter to my constituents last year I said I have good news. And I think I was the only one that said that. Revenues are up. This state is past the grim times that it knew, it’s even past the gray times. That’s where we are right now and I think we’ll stay that way.
“One of the reasons that we’ve done well with the transportation money … [is] with interest rates down, people bought a car they could afford on a monthly payment.
When people bought cars and paid taxes and fees on car that went into transport budget
“I’m a big fan of keeping interest rates down.”
COMMENTS: “I’m going to do everything I can to be absolutely positive that the health system that we have, the excellent health system, continues to be there and be available.
“I’ve spoken with the governor’s office about the property tax increase and have been assured by the governor’s office that they are going to take action on this. I don’t have any specifics on it but yes, there is going to be some relief on property tax.
“We’re now in that situation and its become very, very partisan and I think the governor was surprised, very surprised that this would happen When I talk with him I find him to be extraordinarily reasonable and very understanding. When you’re with him on a one on one he has a warmer more relaxed way. He understands my district and he likes my district. He wants to be involved more and more in this area.
"His staff is two years older now and they know how to get it done. I think he’s better as governor than he was when he came in. his staff is better. And he’s more accustomed now to the hardball that’s going on.
"Partisanship to me is the last refuge of a bad bill or a bad issue."
Del Brian Feldman (D)
The Budget: “The Governor has again set a precedent that’s not followed by any of his predecessors. Usually by this time the legislature has gotten a peek at what the Governor is thinking in terms of his budget. He had not given any indication of where cuts may come. … We’re sitting here more in the dark about where cuts may come than any legislature has in a long, long time.”
Feldman called the roughly $350 million shortfall a “relatively manageable number.”
“We’re actually in relatively good shape compared to other states.” But he noted that the number is expected to balloon to close to $1 billion in the coming years as K-12 education funding increases under the Thornton law passed in 2002.
Comments: “A bill that could be interesting is that we had, at the federal level, the assault weapons ban expire, so it’s now up to the states to step up and do what the want to do and need to in this area,” Feldman said. A Maryland assault weapons ban was defeated in senate committee last year by one vote.
“This is really the first test subsequent to the expiration of the federal ban,” Feldman said. “I’m hopeful we can make some progress here at least in Maryland on assault weapons which have no particular purpose other than to kill.”
On the subject of the legislature’s relationship with the governor, Feldman said, “You’ve got to at some point demonstrate some flexibility and some leadership. … After two years it still remains to be seen whether the governor is able to do that like some of his other counterparts [like Gov. Warner of Virginia And Gov. Rendell of Pennsylvania] have done.”
“I think that this session coming up is critically important if for no other reason that in ‘06 coming up we’ve got an election year,” when less is generally accomplished, Feldman said.
Del. Kathleen Dumais (D)
The Budget: “We’ll struggle with the budget. We can’t even comment or assume what’s going to happen until the Governor comes forward. Obviously I’m very concerned about the cuts we may see to social programs.”
Sen. Brian Frosh (D)
The Budget: “The budget is a continuing problem. So far all the governor’s administration has offered in any year is patches: ‘How are we going to get through this year?’” and not addressed the long term problems, Frosh said.
Comments: “[Efforts at cooperation with the governor] don’t look very good. This governor doesn’t really know how to work with the legislature. He called us into special session [on medical malpractice]. He didn’t have a plan. As soon as it became clear that the legislature had a plan he walked a way from it. … That’s not the way you deal with policy makers. It’s not calculated to generate either good will or good policy. I think he made it clear that he’s not really interested in solving problems.”
Del. Bill Bronrott (D)
The Budget: “I think in terms of the overall big issues it comes down to I believe fully funding education which includes K-12 and higher ed as well as fully funding transportation. I think those are two huge critical challenges for the session ahead”
COMMENTS: “You’ll find that everybody’s personal priorities will shift a bit as they get into the session. … Getting a bill passed when typically 2500 other bills have been introduced during this condensed period of time is very difficult.
“I think you will see a lot more focus on teen driving and highway safety in general.”
Del. Susan Lee (D)
THE BUDGET: “I don’t know if [the governor’s not releasing his budget] is so responsible. You want to know where he’s at because you want to work together and get something out so we can work together for the people of Maryland.”
COMMENTS: “Education [is a priority]. Ensuring that we get full funding for our schools. For renovation projects, and making sure no child really is left behind. I think Doug Duncan is doing a great job in elevating this issue to the focus of everybody and making it an important issue. I hope we don’t let down our kids.
“I’m hoping we’re going to move towards being more bipartisan and working in harmony and compromise. I don’t think [the partisanship] good for the state and the people that we serve.”
Del. Marilyn Goldwater (D)
The Budget: “The budget will be a big issue. We haven’t seen it yet. We don’t know where the money is.
“The art of politics is the art of compromise. I’ve been on the legislature since 1975 so I have a lot of institutional memory and history and I’ve never known a time when the budget was such a mystery.”
Comments: “I see it as a contentious session coming up, first of all because of the veto overrides or the potential overrides. Second, because we have no idea about the governor’s budget, he’s holding it very close to the vest. … Hopefully we’ll get through it. Somehow we always do.”
“[The governor] hasn’t accomplished very much. He’s very stubborn. It’s surprising because after all he was in the legislature. And he knows legislators. But he has to be able to work with them."