Transportation, budget to be top issues when General Assembly reconvenes -- Gazette.Net


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Transportation projects and the Maryland budget are likely to be big issues for Montgomery County lawmakers when they return to Annapolis for the 2013 General Assembly, which starts Jan. 9.

“We need to address transportation issues, likely with a gas tax, to get this area moving again,” said Del. Anne R. Kaiser (D-Dist. 14) of Calverton.

House Majority Leader Kumar Barve (D-Dist. 17) agreed transportation would be a dominant issue in the 90-day session. He expressed support for the Purple Line, a $2 billion light rail connection between Bethesda and College Park, and the Watkins Mill interchange, a $200 million project that would link two sections of Watkins Mill Road with Interstate 270.

“These are projects that we have to start working on ... to be competitive in the Washington, D.C., area,” Barve said. “My constituents are getting tired of waiting in traffic.”

State Sen. Robert Garagiola (D-Dist. 15) of Germantown said he would propose a transportation revenue package and push for a constitutional amendment to prohibit the legislature from transferring money from the Transportation Trust Fund into other budgets.

“There’s barely enough money in the trust fund to maintain and operate what we have,” Garagiola said. “We can’t just stick our head in the sand and not do anything.”

Kaiser, who chairs the Montgomery County House Delegation, serves on the Ways and Means Committee, which hears revenue legislation.

“We will continue to fund priorities in education and health care, and keep making cuts to make government more efficient,” she said.

Garagiola said the budget has been badly affected by the recession of the past four years.

“We’re somewhat out of the woods [this year],” he said.

The budget deficit has dropped from $300 million in years past to $25 million this year. During the recession, Montgomery County and Maryland were “somewhat insulated” because of the area’s proximity to the federal capital, he said. “It’s just the opposite now.” By law, Maryland budgets must balance.

“The budget impacts will affect every corner of the state,” he said.

Legislators said they expect the General Assembly to respond to the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. Gun control measures and a repeal of the death penalty could be considered.

“I think all the legislators are worried about the safety of our citizens and about what we can do to have common-sense gun laws,” said Del. Aruna Miller (D-Dist. 15) of Darnestown.

“Not just gun control, but how to better provide mental health care and to keep kids safe in the classroom,” said Del. Eric G. Luedtke (D-Dist. 14) of Burtonsville. Luedtke is a county middle school teacher.

Del. Charles Barkley (D-Dist. 39) of Germantown said he would propose increasing the size of the school board from seven seats to nine seats, as well as increasing board salary from $18,500 to $25,000. Board members’ pay has not risen since 2002, he said.

Another bill also would change the way board members are elected. Members now live in specific districts but run countywide.

“It’s hard to run a campaign like that (countywide),” he said.

The Montgomery County Board of Education in November voted to oppose proposals to increase its size and change how members are elected. It took no position on the salary increase.

Sen. Nancy King (D-Dist. 39) of Montgomery Village would increase the fine for not using a child safety car seat from $25 to $75.

“Because the fine is only $25, they don’t take it serious,” she said, adding that she believes the $50 increase will be enough to make people pay attention. “There really isn’t an excuse for not having a child safety seat.”

Del. Shane Robinson (D-Dist. 39) of Montgomery Village said he would push a bill that would require material dredged in local lakes to be tested before it was spread on residential areas, which was an issue when Lake Whetstone needed to be dredged.

And he also would push for a bill allowing county voters to vote at any precinct within the county.

“It should work, because during early voting you can go to any of five centers in Montgomery County,” he said.

The new bill would mean there would just be a lot more places voters could go to on election day, he said. “The easier you make voting, the better,” he said.