County Issues Watch – Week of March 14-18

As the General Assembly’s session has reached the two-thirds mark in days, much of the serious work remains to be done. Here we will detail issues of interest to the county community that are likely to unfold (or begin unfolding) during the week of March 14-18, 2011.

Budget, Budget, Budget

The House Appropriations Committee is expected to reach its budget decisions this week, likely framing the debate for the state’s fiscal plan for the weeks ahead. Subcommittees will hold decision meetings on Wednesday and Thursday, and the full committee will meet on Friday to receive the subcommittee recommendations. After doing so, the committee will take up “full committee” items, many of which will involve changes to the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act.

Most of the major county fiscal issues — continued cuts to local roadway funding, a number of proposed cost shifts, and possible a shift of teacher pension costs — will be front and center as the Committee reveals its fiscal plan for FY 2012 and beyond.

Towing Practices Drawing Attention

The House Environmental Matters Committee will be convening a workgroup to discuss towing practices. Several bills have been introduced to address the towing industry, and MACo has been an interested party during these debates. MACo will continue to participate, to advocate reasonable treatment of towing cases triggered by public safety agencies (mostly stolen or abandoned vehicles) and that any new licensing scheme would not undermine or pre-empt current county licensing.

Semiannual Tax Payment for Everyone?

The House Ways and Means Committee has passed HB 463, a bill to compel every county to offer a two-payment option for large commercial property owners. Coupled with another bill still in that committee (HB 695 to require the same for non-owner occupied residential properties), this would effectively give the semiannual payment option to every property tax payer. MACo had argued against both bills, suggesting that the “special consideration” compelling such treatment for homeowners did not apply to businesses and other properties. The discussion on the House floor, as well as the action on HB 695, may dictate where this issue is headed this year, though the bills have yet to be heard by the Senate.

Committees Reporting Out Many Bills

With the sizable majority of introduced bills still residing in their committees, the next two weeks will see many of the votes to determine passage or failure. Each chamber has “courtesy” deadlines for bills to be reported out of committee (March 22) and to be reported out of their chamber of origin (March 28) — bills missing those deadlines face procedural difficulties in further passage in the opposite chamber. So, each committee will be reporting out a number of bills to the full floor in the next week or two, making this stretch of the session a rather unpredictable one.

Keep reading the Conduit Street blog for developing news on county issues as the session progresses.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties

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