If It's Not About Budget, Forget It

By Ovetta Wiggins and Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, November 8, 2007

Del. Doyle L. Niemann (D-Prince George's) wants to set up an authority and put an end to the financial woes that have plagued Prince George's Hospital Center.

Del. Barbara A. Frush (D-Prince George's) says the state should cut funding for the intercounty connector, the controversial highway that would link Prince George's and Montgomery counties.

And Del. Joseline A. Pe¿a-Melnyk (D-Prince George's) wants to place the balance on unused gift certificates into a fund for education.

These are just a few of the ideas being pursued by local lawmakers during the special session called by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) to deal with a budget shortfall of a least $1.5 billion. But the proposals probably won't even make it to the floor for debate.

More than 50 bills have been introduced during the special session. Most offer alternative ways to close the projected shortfall, but many of the bills, such as those introduced by Niemann, Frush and Pe¿a-Melnyk, have nothing to do with the state's budget problem.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) decided that bills unrelated to the budget would be assigned to the House Rules & Executive Nominations Committee so that lawmakers could focus on the deficit. The other bills probably will die in committee at the session's end. To revive the issues, lawmakers would have to start anew when the regular session begins in January.

Niemann said he expects his bill to be assigned to the committee, but he hopes the issue will be taken up in some form.

"There is sentiment in the delegation that the issue needs to be resolved," he said. "The governor wants us to go out on a limb to support him, and we want some support for one of our most serious problems."

Frush said she wanted to express the county's sentiments about the intercounty connector with the introduction of her bill.

"The county doesn't want it, the County Council doesn't want it, those delegates who are affected don't want it. It's just wrong," she said. "It's a bad way to spend money, especially at a time when our money is scarce."

Other budget-related bills will get a full airing.

Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Prince George's) introduced a bill that would raise the cigarette tax by $1.44 instead of the $1-a-pack suggested by the governor.

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