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Bringing Home the Bacon

District 15 legislators discuss victories, defeats, and what’s ahead at the Maryland General Assembly.

The good news for parents and students is that all new portable classrooms used in the state of Maryland will be required to meet strict indoor air quality standards. The bad news is that those standards do not apply to existing portables.

Such is the give-and-take that marked the 423rd meeting of the Maryland General Assembly that wrapped up in April.

The District 15 representatives to the assembly attended the monthly meeting of the West Montgomery County Citizens Association to discuss the wins and losses from the 90-day session in Annapolis. Freshman Delegate Craig Rice was out of town on business and could not attend.

“If you think about it, most of the issues that affect your life are taking place in the state house, not on Capitol Hill,” said Del. Brian Feldman (D-15).

Senator Rob Garagiola (D-15), said that he fought to have the new portable-classroom air quality standards applied to existing portables, but that would have required substantial funding to replace many of the existing units. Money is tight in Annapolis these days, with a $1.5 billion budget shortfall looming on the horizon for the 2008 fiscal year, and Garagiola’s effort died amidst the fear that surrounds the looming fiscal deficit.

Among the successes that the legislators touted were $400 million for school construction, including $52.3 for Montgomery County; a statewide indoor smoking ban; a freeze in college tuition at state schools; and the requirement that all cars sold in Maryland meet California’s strict emission standards by 2011.

The passage and implementation of StateStat, a statewide version of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s CityStat system that used statistics to measure government efficiency, should make Maryland ’s government more effective, said Kathleen Dumais (D-15).

“It worked in the city, we hope it will work in the state as well,” said Dumais.

Still, the looming budget situation cast a shadow on the legislative achievements.

“Unlike the federal government, we can’t print [money],” said Feldman. The state is required by its constitution to be balanced every year and does not have the federal government’s luxury of operating from a deficit, Feldman said. The impending shortfall loomed large over all action in Annapolis this year and may require a special session of the Assembly this fall, Garagiola said.

Every possibility to raise additional revenue for the state will be on the table, including income tax and sales tax increases and the legalization of slot machines.

“There isn’t one solution,” Garagiola said, “it’s going to be a package of solutions.”

Feldman warned that people probably won’t like whatever that package of solutions ends up being.

“It will not be politically popular."