- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Calvert County Chamber of Commerce members had the opportunity to hear opposing views from state delegates regarding upcoming bills and legislation Monday morning at the State Legislative Breakfast at the Rod ’N’ Reel Restaurant in Chesapeake Beach.
Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Prince George’s), Sen. Roy P. Dyson (D-Calvert, Charles, St. Mary’s), House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell (R-Calvert, St. Mary’s) and Del. Mark Fisher (R-Calvert) were in attendance to answer questions posed by the chamber members. However, only two questions, concerning transportation and health care, were asked in the allotted time before closing remarks were made.
The first question asked what plans the legislators had slated for the Gov. Thomas Johnson Memorial Bridge this year and what their thoughts are on the potential for a gas tax increase.
Miller explained, “I can get a bill through the Senate. I can’t get a bill through the House,” regarding bridge improvements. He added that he supported the gas tax increase in order to support transportation projects in rural areas.
Dyson detailed the preferred proposal for the bridge’s improvements, including a new, four-lane bridge with a walking and bike lane on both sides and a 10-foot service lane for vehicles involved in accidents to pull over. He told the members that it is projected at $627 million.
“Everybody’s taxes just increased,” said O’Donnell, adding that a gas tax would implement effects, including higher prices, across the board. He said there is an “incessant desire” to raise taxes to create more revenue. “It’s unbelievable,” he said as he pushed the microphone away at the podium and walked back to his seat.
Fisher said in a testimony made to the Ways and Means Committee, they were told “Maryland has enough money to take care of its roads,” without increasing the gas tax. He explained that the gas tax was initially going to be paid to the county, “but Annapolis said that wasn’t good enough. ... There is never going to be enough revenue to satisfy Annapolis.”
The second topic addressed was the effects of the state-based health insurance exchange, the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange.
“We don’t know how many people are going to be dumped onto the exchange,” O’Donnell said, adding that they, too, didn’t know how much it might cost and that taxes are going up because of the health care reform. He said there is already a shortage of doctors in Southern Maryland and it will only make the lines and wait times longer.
“If you’re critical thinkers, ask yourself why” the state continues to implement and increase taxes “in the worst economy in eight years,” he said.
Dyson said, “this is going to have, in my opinion, a tremendous impact,” especially on small business owners.
Fisher said administration costs alone are projected to be between $32 and $42 million. He said there is a possibility of a fee on health care premiums that has been proposed as a way to pay for the costs. “Please expect more fees,” he said. “They’re going to be in your health care premium.”
“We’ve heard testimony again and again,” he said, adding that after graduating in Maryland, doctors “aren’t sticking around” to practice in Maryland.
Miller stood up for the Maryland Health Care Benefit Exchange, stating, “Everybody deserves health care. It’s a quality of life issue. We can make this happen.”
During his concluding remarks, Miller stressed, “The health care is going to work.”
Fisher said, during his concluding remarks, that there are ways to raise money for transportation, such as privatizing some roads, toll roads and rest centers, selling welcome centers and naming rights to roads, “instead of going into pockets of citizens.”
He also brought up many “cool things” in the technology world, such as a 3-D printer that “literally makes the thing,” that could bring jobs back from China and Telemedicine allowing a doctor to “see” a patient through a live video chat.
“Small businesses will solve our problems,” Fisher said, pleading for the chamber to “engage” small business owners “because, quite frankly, there aren’t enough of them here.”
O’Donnell warned that if and when the sequester is fixed, there will be “significant reductions” at the federal level, directly impacting Maryland.
“The federal government has to cut back and we’re particularly vulnerable here in Maryland,” he said, citing the large number of commuters who reside in Maryland and work in Washington, D.C.
O’Donnell concluded, “We have to take a strong, hard look at school safety.” He said he asked his wife, who works in public schools, if she could lock her door from the inside. He said she told him there are no doors at her school, and O’Donnell looked at Calvert County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Smith adding, “and we got a lot of those, Jack.”