The Maryland General Assembly will adjourn at midnight, Sine Die, next Monday. The end of the Session brings a huge swirl of activity, including the passage of the budget and resolution of major issues involving local governments, the environment, energy and education. The past two weeks has also been full of activity.
Choosing the Baltimore County School Board
Members of the Baltimore County Board of Education are appointed by the Governor. For nearly a decade, there have been efforts to ensure their accountability and responsiveness by changing the selection process. This year, the House voted to create a fully elected school board; the Senate proposed a ‘hybrid’ where 7 members are elected and 4 would be appointed.
Efforts to make the proposed change have been both emotional and political. Many want to keep the existing system, while many other parents and school advocates have weighed in for the hybrid. After much debate, the Senate passed a bill to create a hybrid that would have 6 elected members (from newly created districts) and 5 appointed members by the Governor. The negotiations and discussions have taken a lot of time. The County House delegation has voted to support this version. It must now be voted on by the House committee and full House.
Off-Shore Wind Energy
Maryland has been aggressively expanding its renewable energy portfolio, working to reduce our dependence on coal and oil. This includes providing support for and incentivizing wind energy. More than five (5) years ago, the State supported wind energy in western Maryland. Last week, the House passed legislation to support the construction of a wind farm off-shore. The bill enables the developer to charge $1.50 per month for the average user of 1,000 kilowatts.
And, there is one critical point: there will be no increase in consumer rates until the project is generating electricity. This will be no earlier than 2017. Therefore, if a developer can obtain the funding, part of their costs can be offset –only with the approval of the Public Service Commission – by this increase in consumer rates.
Maryland’s Capital Budget
The House adopted its version of a $1.119 billion capital budget. I voted for the budget because it is within the Capital Debt Spending Affordability limits and covers an extensive number of projects meeting a range of needs throughout the state. Here is a small sample of what is included:
o waterway and wastewater improvements
o Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund
o Program Open Space
o Rural land preservation
o NeighborSpace funds for purchase of land in neighborhoods
The entire budget is found in SB 151 and can be found on line at www.mlis.state.md.us.
Some Other Issues
The House passed a bill to support and foster Private-Public Partnerships but the Senate has not moved it forward. I was a guest on WYPR’s Sheila Kast show to discuss the value and need for these funding opportunities. Leveraging private funds, while increasing the benefits and minimizing the risks to the State can enable us to construct a number of capital projects. P3 creates another procurement process with greater transparency and accountability.
Only one of my recycling bills, HB 1, passed in this Session. HB 1 requires apartment complexes and condominiums to establish a recycling plan and provide recycling for their residents. This should expand the recycling collection and enables residents to more easily participate in recycling
Working with the Department of Housing and Community Development, I got legislation passed to enable counties to provide tax credits to support home ownership in targeted neighborhoods. This can be a terrific tool for encouraging revitalization and stability in communities that are seeing more stress.
Let me extend my sincere condolences to the families and friends of the two Towson University students Ryan Bailey and Timothy Coyer, who died last weekend. This was a horrific tragedy for the University community. The candle light vigil was a wonderful statement of support during this sad time.
Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns as we finish up this Session. I can be reached at Stephen.Lafferty@house.state.md.us or 410-841-3487.