She's lived in Prince George's County almost all of her life, but Del. Barbara Frush (D-Calverton) will be the first to tell you that her knowledge of the county is limited.
That's why Frush jumped at the chance to ride a bus around the county last fall with her fellow lawmakers. Del. Rushern L. Baker III (D-Cheverly), chairman of the Prince George's House delegation, set up the tour to help his colleagues prepare for the 90-day General Assembly session that begins today in Annapolis.
For Frush, vice chairman of the House delegation, the tour was as enlightening as it was humbling. She said she was overwhelmed by a blighted section of the county where open-air drug sales and other crimes are rampant.
"I had no idea these parts existed," Frush said, referring to the area around Suitland where Prince George's meets Southeast Washington. "It's frightening, yet those of us who don't come from that area don't always think of the way other people live and how it is incumbent on us to work on behalf of all our citizens."
That is what Frush, Baker and other county lawmakers hope to do as the General Assembly convenes. They especially want to try to push their colleagues in Annapolis to spend the anticipated $1 billion state surplus on such vital issues as schools, health and transportation.
The county's agenda also includes requests for money to develop two Metro stations and extend another, as well as requests for funds to repay the county sheriff's department for courthouse security over the past two decades and to rebuild an apartment community in Suitland. The session also will see a proposal from the county to change the way the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission does business, and there could be renewed calls to do away with the law that limits property tax increases in the county.
In short, lawmakers hope to help every corner of the county at a time when they say the county is more united politically than ever before. Previous legislative sessions have been marred for Prince George's by feuding between County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D) and his predecessor, Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D). There also have been rumblings of dissatisfaction within the delegation that Curry was harming the county's standing more than helping in Annapolis.
But that, the county's lawmakers insisted Monday, was a thing of the past.
In a joint news conference with lawmakers that highlighted their togetherness, Curry unveiled some of the county's requests, including a spending wish list for capital projects of more than $200 million.
Curry described a county agenda that also includes making sure the county gets its fair share of $4.4 billion in tobacco settlement money.
Lawmakers also said they will ask the state legislature for funds to build the transportation infrastructure for the proposed the National Harbor resort project in Oxon Hill.
"The reason we're here is to bring girth to our plan and vision to our priority," an animated Curry said to roars of applause at the conference, which looked and sounded more like a pep rally than a news conference.
Although Curry and delegation members promised to be more unified heading into Annapolis, there are still some issues that may divide them.
Indeed, the unity could be tested when a Curry administration proposal affecting the WSSC hits the floor. It asked that some services currently performed by the WSSC be given to Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
"There's going to be some back and forth," Baker said, adding that even there, the goal will be to work together, not against one another. "The fear among some is whether what the administration is really asking for is the privatization of WSSC. There could be a tough fight depending on whether [Curry] will fall on his sword or not."
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Clinton), a native of Prince George's who was not at the news conference, said his priorities will focus on repealing the Maryland inheritance tax on property, which if passed, would save survivors an estimated $18 million to $20 million. Miller also said he expects the state legislature to approve $45 million toward a proposed new $90 million sports arena at the University of Maryland. The telecommunications and entertainment company Comcast Corp., of Philadelphia, last week bought the naming rights to the sports complex for $20 million for 10 years. And Miller said he will renew his effort to get $17.5 million for a new wing on the Prince George's courthouse in Upper Marlboro. The county would have to match the state's appropriation.
Although Miller's priorities are statewide in scope, the 21 House delegates and seven other Senate members from Prince George's will go to Annapolis to focus on local issues such as the following.
Baker, in his second year as the leader of the House delegation, said the county already expects the legislature to approve $44 million to help build seven schools.
The county received General Assembly approval to build 13 schools in a deal cut between county leaders and the state to end decades of court-ordered busing and begin returning children to neighborhood buildings.
The delegation also will look for an as yet to be determined amount of money from the state to computerize county schools' antiquated bus system routes--now done by hand--and to modernize administrative tasks and train teachers to use computers.
There's also the issue of growth and its impact on schools. A proposal by Del. James W. Hubbard (D-Bowie) to charge developers $7,000 for every condominium, town house or single-family dwelling as a way to alleviate crowding in schools where home building is rampant, could spark a spirited debate. The proposal, which would replace the controversial adequate public facilities fee in which school and planning officials estimate projected enrollment for schools, has broad support. However, Hubbard's proposal could run into friendly opposition from lawmakers who think the $7,000 is a bit too steep.
County residents could see a spirited discussion surrounding TRIM--the law that prevents the county from raising property taxes.
Will there be a repeal attempt? Maybe, Baker said.
"There's a feeling among some from other jurisdictions that because we can't match funds in the way that they can, that we should not get as much money," Baker said.
County lawmakers want to ensure that the county, which with Baltimore has the highest proportion of addicted smokers and cigarette-related health problems, gets its share of tobacco money. The county would use its share to pay for smoking cessation and drug and treatment programs as well as other health initiatives.
Prince George's lawmakers also will ask the General Assembly for $56 million to reimburse the county for the cost of security at the District Court during the last 28 years. A Circuit Court judge ruled late last year that the state should bear part of the cost of providing building security. Another court hearing on the issue was scheduled for yesterday.
The county also is expected to ask the General Assembly for $43 million to extend the Metro Blue Line to Largo Town Center, $30 million to develop land around the New Carrollton Metro, and an additional $5 million to develop the College Park Metro.
And there will be county efforts to get $1 million to build an overpass for the Bowie New Town Center mall and $30 million to rebuild one of the county's most troubled communities--the Suitland Manor apartments near the U.S. Census building.
"It's a run-down, no light, high-drug area with major crime issues," said Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Forestville), chairman of the county Senate delegation. "People drive in there every day to work at the census building, yet they don't participate in the community because of what goes on there."
Lawmakers say the funding requests could be easier to grant, partly because the governor has given them some assurances, and because good economic times have resulted in the state having a bulging treasury.
But that doesn't mean doling out money will be easy, said Miller, who is entering his 14th year as president of the Senate.
"We cannot [resolve] all the ills of the state at one time," Miller said, adding that he expects special interest groups to fight feverishly for surplus money. "It's times like these that we need to invest in the future by putting money in things like the Woodrow Wilson Bridge [replacement] and school construction."
Lastly, say county lawmakers, part of their job this session will be to continue to elevate their home's image by boosting projects such as the National Harbor proposal and reminding outsiders that residents have never really been enamored of the term "P.G."
"We prefer Prince George's," Frush said, adding that it is rare to hear other county names shortened. "It just sounds better and goes with what we're trying to accomplish."
The following is a list of Prince George's capital projects that county lawmakers will ask the General Assembly to fund:
* Public school construction
* National Harbor infrastructure
To be announced
* Construction funding for Blue Line
Metro extension to Largo Town Center
* Joint development of the New Carrollton and
College Park Metro stations
* Suitland Manor redevelopment
* Route 1 Corridor/University of Maryland
Town Center public/private campus
* Beltsville/Adelphi Community
* Bladensburg Marina area redevelopment
* Cheltenham Government Excellence
Regional Training Center
* Bus purchases under mass transit plan
* Resurfacing of Route 202 from
Brightseat Road to the District of
* Southern Maryland Regional Emergency
Response Training Academy
* Urban retrofit streetscaping and
landscaping on Route 4
* Urban retrofit streetscaping and
landscaping on Route 704
* Acquisition of 10 severely flood-prone
and isolated homes
* Bowie New Town Center overpass
* Resurfacing of Route 202 from
Perrywood to Route 725
* Southern Maryland Children's