Transportation, budget to be top issues in Annapolis for Montgomery leaders

January 3, 2013

Transportation projects and the Maryland budget will probably be big issues for Montgomery County lawmakers when they return to Annapolis for the 2013 General Assembly, which starts Wednesday.

“We need to address transportation issues, likely with a gas tax, to get this area moving again,” said Del. Anne R. Kaiser (D-District 14) of Calverton.

House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve (D-District 17) agreed transportation would be a dominant issue in the 90-day session. He expressed support for the Purple Line, a $2 billion light-rail connection between Bethesda and College Park, and the Watkins Mill interchange, a $200 million project that would link two sections of Watkins Mill Road with Interstate 270.

“These are projects that we have to start working on . . . to be competitive in the Washington, D.C., area,” Barve said. “My constituents are getting tired of waiting in traffic.”

State Sen. Robert J. Garagiola (D) of Germantown said he would propose a transportation revenue package and push for a constitutional amendment to prohibit the legislature from transferring money from the Transportation Trust Fund into other budgets.

“There’s barely enough money in the trust fund to maintain and operate what we have,” Garagiola said. “We can’t just stick our head in the sand and not do anything.”

Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons (D-District 17) of Rockville said lawmakers aren’t likely to put more money into the fund without a “lockbox” to keep it there.

“The state has unmercifully, even ruthlessly, raided the transportation fund over the years, and we’ve done that to balance the budget,” Simmons said during a meeting last month with the Rockville mayor and council.

Garagiola said the budget has been badly affected by the recession of the past four years.

“We’re somewhat out of the woods” this year, he said.

The budget deficit has dropped from $300 million in years past to $25 million this year. During the recession, Montgomery County and Maryland were “somewhat insulated” because of the area’s proximity to the federal capital, he said. “It’s just the opposite now.” By law, Maryland budgets must balance.

“The budget impacts will affect every corner of the state,” he said.

Legislators said they expect the General Assembly to consider a repeal of the death penalty and to also respond to the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., with gun-control measures.

“I think all the legislators are worried about the safety of our citizens and about what we can do to have common-sense gun laws,” said Del. Aruna Miller (D-District 15) of Darnestown.

“Not just gun control, but how to better provide mental health care and to keep kids safe in the classroom,” said Del. Eric G. Luedtke (D-District 14) of Burtonsville. Luedtke is a county middle-school teacher.

Del. Charles Barkley E. (D-District 39) of Germantown said he would propose increasing the size of the school board from seven seats to nine , as well as increasing board salary from $18,500 to $25,000. Board members’ pay has not risen since 2002, he said.

Another bill would change the way board members are elected. Members now live in specific districts but run countywide.

“It’s hard to run a campaign like that” countywide, he said.

The Montgomery County Board of Education voted in November to oppose proposals to increase its size and change how members are elected. It took no position on the salary increase.

Sen. Nancy King (D) of Montgomery Village would increase the fine for not using a child safety car seat from $25 to $75.

“Because the fine is only $25, they don’t take it seriously,” she said, adding that she thinks the $50 increase will be enough to make people pay attention. “There really isn’t an excuse for not having a child safety seat.”

Del. Shane Robinson (D-District 39) of Montgomery Village said he would push for a bill allowing county residents to vote at any precinct within the county.

“It should work, because during early voting you can go to any of five centers in Montgomery County,” he said.

The new bill would mean there would be a lot more places voters could go to on election day, he said. “The easier you make voting, the better,” he said.

State Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D) said he wants to change the organ-donating process in Maryland so that people will be organ donors by default unless they specify otherwise when getting a driver’s license.

“We want to send the signal that we consider this good civic behavior,” said Raskin, of Takoma Park.

Del. Jeffrey D. Waldstreicher (D-District 18) said he will introduce legislation to create a state trust fund for victims of traumatic brain injury, such as veterans and victims of drunken drivers, who do not have medical insurance or who lost their insurance. He said the trust fund would be a safety net of last resort that would pay for medical expenses and that the program is common in other states.

He said the Maryland Senate approved similar legislation last year. “We just have to get it through my chamber this year,” said Waldstreicher, of Kensington.

Del. Tom Hucker (D-District 20) of Silver Spring said he is offering bills that would expand energy reduction goals, meet the greenhouse gas reduction goals and create green jobs in the state.

Another bill would provide stronger public notification of contaminate levels by monitoring sewage discharge into Rock Creek and Sligo Creek. The bill would also require posting of the levels in the park system where people would come into contact with the creeks.

Del. Alfred C. Carr Jr. (D-District 18) is trying to promote water conservation. One bill would let the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission establish a program that would promote water fixture upgrades. The program, which he said would also help put plumbers to work, would be paid through savings on water bills.

He also would force state properties to pay local storm water utility fees, which are charges based on a property’s paved surfaces. State properties are currently exempt from paying the fees.

Del. Susan C. Lee (D-District 16) of Bethesda plans to work with state Sen. Catherine E. Pugh (D) of Baltimore to expand the use of telemedicine, which is remote diagnosis and treatment of patients. Lee said the technology can allow patients to see a specialist, or receive a checkup, without travel expenses.

“What we want to do is expand it to Medicaid patients, low-income patients, so we can be proactive in providing telemedicine for them,” she said.

Gazette staff writers Kara Rose, Jessica Ablamsky and Elizabeth Waibel contributed to this report.

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