General Assembly Leadership Offer Support for Local Roads, Forecast Challenges Ahead

Following tradition, General Assembly Leaders addressed local officials on the final day of the MACo Winter Conference. This year, Senate President Mike Miller and Speaker of the House Michael Busch were joined by Senate Minority Whip Chris Shank to share their views on issues confronting Annapolis in the upcoming General Assembly Session. Due to an Administration scheduling conflict, Senator Shank (who also serves on the hogan transition team) also provided some comments on behalf of the incoming Administration.

GA ForecastSenators Miller and Shank both commented on local highway user revenues, Miller stating that local restoration is a “priority of the new Administration” and Shank stating that they “clearly received the message.”

In an interview with WBAL TV, Michael Sanderson, MACo’s Executive Director, commented on the importance of these funds.

You have to pay for roads, have to plow the snow, you have to do those things and if the money has to come away from your libraries, and your parks and schools, everything gets pinched, so it’s central to what we do on the front lines of government.

As reported by WBAL TV, both presiding officers stated that the State’s budget would be front and center, and pledged cooperation with the new Administration to get things done.

The General Assembly presiding officers assured county leaders that Maryland will be in a state of cooperation when the governor-elect takes office.

“I do think it will take a corroborative effort to do that,” Busch said.

“Things are going to be fine at the State House, I assure you,” Miller said.  “I promise you my cooperation, my full cooperation and make sure your goals are our goals, as well as the governor’s goals.”

Speaker Busch delivered a presentation showing general fund growth by category from fiscal 2000 to fiscal 2015 and an overview of state aid to local governments and school funding by county. He also presented data on population trends.

Speaker Busch stated that the “prime budget actions to be considered would be to reduce higher education funding, lower disparity grants, reduce education funding provided through the geographic cost of education index (GCEI), and reduce provider rates [paid to physicians who treat Medicaid patients].”

Senate President Miller agreed that GCEI is on the table and also commented on the “rain tax” and bail reform. On the “rain tax,”  otherwise known as a stormwater management fee, he predicted that “counties would be given discretion to deal with the issue.” On the topic of bail reform, he predicted that “hiring new public defenders was not going to happen and that no more than $10 million would be provided in the budget.”

Senate Minority Whip Shank began his comments focused on the State’s capital budget.

State debt for capital projects is soaring and property tax revenues no longer support costs, so money is now siphoned out of the general fund to pay it down. Western Maryland Senate Minority Leader Chris Shank said he believes the governor-elect has his eye on restructuring it.

Senator Shank, who serves on the Governor’s Commission to Reform Maryland’s Pretrial System, stated that the “Richmond decision has had a profound impact on counties and local jails.” He commented that he doesn’t see how the $10 million provided in fiscal 2014 for panel attorneys at bail review hearings is addressing the problem and that the  state can invest in other mechanisms to be more effective. In his view, the Richmond decision indicates that the State is long overdue for a comprehensive look at its criminal justice system.”

Senator Shank also commented that the new Administration is very concerned with the surge in heroin use, referring to it as a health emergency. Lt. Governor-Elect Rutherford will focus on this issue for the new Administration.

Full video segment on WBAL TV