House Minority Leader Addresses MACo Legislative Committee

At the February 16 meeting of the MACo Legislative Committee, House Minority Leader Anthony O’Donnell joined the discussion to talk about a range of issues, including both fiscal and broader policy issues. Senate Minority Leader Nancy Jacobs had also planned to visit, but was hastily called into a meeting and extended her regrets. Committee Chair Ingrid Turner welcomed Delegate O’Donnell as a “familiar face,” and recalled his participation in MACo’s recent winter conference, and his receipt of MACo’s Legislative Recognition Award.

Delegate O’Donnell spoke first about fiscal issues, noting that the budget process is “moving along,” and observing that “Maryland is positioned well,” commenting on workforce and excellent education offerings. “We certainly have challenges,” he continued, and warned that “we cannot sustain these spending levels,” noting the state’s all-funds operating budget increasing over time. He rebutted recent claims of deep overall budget cuts, pointing to overall spending as “increasing in every year since 1979 [the first year evaluated].”

The Minority leader also commented on the status of State borrowing, observing that “we are up against our [Capital Debt Affordability Committee] limits,” and commented that in coming years, the State may be compelled by its own borrowing to either increase its property tax rate, or to contribute general funds to offset debt service costs.

“Our general budgeting principles are not sound, in my opinion,” he concluded, and stated “we need to bite the bullet.”

He did say that the House Republican Caucus “will propose budget cuts” and offer a plan similar to that it prepared during the 2010 session. He did forecast that the plan “will be without a teacher pension shift.” He observed that “in the long run… we may have to have a discussion about that,” but then concluded “right now, it would just force local taxes up.” He commented on the “good faith effort” that he and the caucus would offer in preparing input into budget deliberations.

Delegate O’Donnell also commented on transportation funding, saying “we need to stop raiding the money going to transportation,” and acknowledging the multiple year loss of Highway User Revenues to local roads and bridges. On pension reform proposals, he argued “the Governor’s plan doesn’t really solve the problem,” and suggested the State needs to “look down the road, at what’s sustainable.” On the proposal to shift costs of property assessment to counties, he noted “there are lots of troublesome things in the BRFA, lots of policy issues,” and he suggested such ideas “should be debated on their merits in the policy committees” [rather than embedded in the comprehensive budget reconciliation bill].

Delegate O’Donnell also expressed his appreciation for MACo’s decision not to weigh in opposed to HB 24, his own proposal to limit conditions for sewage sludge application. He commented on these processes, and commented about pollution problems arising both from sewage sludge, as well as combined sewage overflow systems still in place in certain Maryland jurisdictions.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties

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