Thursday, April 23, 2009
Fresh from the General Assembly session that wrapped up last week, about a dozen members of Montgomery County's legislative delegation gathered in the offices of County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) to recap the highlights -- and lowlights.
Even before the session began in January, Leggett very publicly told Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) that he was drawing "a line in the sand" when it came to protecting state aid for local schools. Miller wasn't so sure, telling Leggett at a breakfast meeting in December that changes to state funding for local teacher pensions would probably have to be made.
Lawmakers decided not to shift pension costs to the counties and, thanks to federal economic stimulus money, school spending remained strong, even as lawmakers struggled to close a deep budget gap in the face of declining tax revenue.
"The county executive drew a line in the sand, and all 32 of us stayed on one side of the line with him," Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D), one of the delegation's leaders, said during last week's news conference.
Montgomery did get hit with an additional $31 million in state budget cuts, but legislators agreed with Leggett's assessment that it "could have been far worse."
Council President Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville), who joined the gathering at Leggett's office last week, expressed deep frustration that the local campaign finance legislation that he had championed stalled in the Senate for a second year. The bill, sponsored by Del. Susan C. Lee (D-Montgomery), would have allowed the County Council to enact more stringent disclosure rules in local elections.
Andrews had envisioned more frequent reporting of campaign contributions, for instance, and a requirement that donors list their place of employment.
The measure passed the House Ways and Means Committee easily and was approved unanimously on the House floor with 135 votes. After a hearing before the Senate Education Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, no further action was taken.
Lee said she had asked the committee's chairwoman, Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore), to schedule a vote on the bill.
"We just wanted to be able to provide more transparency and accountability. There are lots of big interests out there with a lot of money," Lee said. "They gave us no reason" for not voting, and "I was extremely disappointed."
The bill had the backing of groups such as Common Cause and was opposed by the state Board of Elections, whose administrator, Linda H. Lamone, is a close ally of Miller's.
Conway did not return an e-mail message requesting comment, and Miller was not immediately available to shed light on the mystery.