The following update was provided by Del. Rick Impallaira:
Annapolis Update #4 – Legislation & State Budget – March 16, 2010
We have passed the halfway point of the General Assembly and at this time I have had bill hearings on all of the bills I introduced this session. The Harford County Tow Bill had a good hearing in committee and should pass both the House and the Senate, having the full support of the Delegation. The purpose of the bill is to give more consumer protection to the public and to allow the Sheriff’s Department to discover stolen vehicles sooner, which will help to reduce insurance costs, as stolen vehicles of course increase premiums for all of us.
House Bill 656 – Election Law – Voting by Felons at Polling Places – Prohibited proposes allowing felons to vote only by absentee ballot. I am not in support of felons voting, but since the General Assembly has, in its wisdom, allowed them to vote, I thought it was necessary to introduce legislation to prevent them voting at polls, especially sexual offenders, because most of our polling places are at elementary schools, recreation centers, and churches, all places which children frequent. The bill had a good hearing, but at the request of our Subcommittee Chairman on election laws, I withdrew the bill, creating a new bill with one of my colleagues in the General Assembly, John A. Olszewski, Jr., and that bill should be passed, preventing sexual offenders (instead of all felons) from voting at polling places.
House Bill 725 –Campaign Finance – Contributions by Foreign Nationals also had a good hearing. Mike Miller, President of the Senate, called and requested to cross-file this bill in the Senate. The bill is now being reviewed by the Attorney General’s office to determine whether it is already the law of Maryland that foreign nationals cannot make campaign contributions. So this bill will either pass or, if it is determined that current law already suffices, the bill will be withdrawn.
House Bill 653 – Taxes – Limitations likewise had a good hearing, with many of our local residents from Harford County testifying in favor of it. The purpose of the bill is to put future tax caps on residential and commercial property, so that businesses and homeowners will be able to foresee what their property taxes will be, allowing them to be better prepared to pay them.
House Bill 655 – State Government – Furloughs and Temporary Salary Reductions was heard last week in the House Appropriations Committee. The feeling I took away from comments by the committee members is that they believe the State of Maryland should be able to increase the budget every year, and that they have the right to compensate for the shortfall from the paychecks of state employees.
And now, for what’s going on in Annapolis. As you may recall, the Governor put off his State of the State address while he tried to determine exactly what condition the State was truly in. Now he has also pushed back the vote on the State Budget and the BERFA, which is the State’s operating budget. I believe the reason for holding back on committing to a budget is because the Governor is looking for as many places as possible where he can appropriate money from other funds, and he is hoping that if the budget is released at the most hectic part of the General Assembly, it will be harder for lawmakers and the public to have the time to read, review, and improve it.
The State is considering doubling tolls. This is critical to our section of the State, because we pay more tolls than our neighbors in the Washington suburbs and Western Maryland, effectively putting a heavier tax burden on our local citizens.
The Governor is also considering raiding the Chesapeake Bay Fund, which comes from the so-called flush tax. Governor Ehrlich created this fee so the State would have the necessary funds to update failing treatment plants in Maryland. It is unconscionable that this Fund would be used for purposes other than the one it was created for.
The State is also considering selling IWIF (Injured Workers Insurance Fund) for $20 million. The $20 million would come from IWIF’s reserve, which in reality belongs to the ratepayers and should be returned to the businesses, either in a direct payment from IWIF or by a reduced charge on future policies. IWIF employees also got the short end of the stick when they were forced to take furlough days like other state employees. The money “saved” through the furloughs, amounting to more than $400,000, cannot be transferred to the State’s General Fund. Instead it is in place in IWIF’s reserve fund, and most likely will be part of the $20 million used to buy the company. If this sounds familiar, like the sell-out of BGE and the attempted sell-out of Blue Cross Blue Shield, you’re right, and that’s why I do not support this and am doing my best to kill it.
There will be another attempt to raise tobacco taxes, which will have the usual result of more people crossing State lines to buy cigarettes, thus reducing the income we receive from cigarette taxes.
With regard to legislation bearing on Harford County, at this time Harford County Delegation has had no requests from either the County Executive or the County Council for legislation, and since we’re already well past the bill filing deadline, I believe that we won’t see any legislative requests from them.
Delegate McDonough has introduced a bill to have English declared as Harford County’s official language. It is supported by the entire Delegation and has passed the Delegation. This bill will help Harford County government cut needless spending for producing documents in languages other than English.
Finally, I believe I will be voting against the Budget again this year because what we’re hearing is that there will be many cuts to programs which the public needs, while additional funding will be pushed into programs that I believe we could live without.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me by letter at Room 310, Lowe House Office Building, 6 Bladen Street, Annapolis, MD 21401, by phone at 410-841-3334, by e-mail at Rick.Impallaria@house.state.md.us, or by fax at 410-841-3598.