State legislators provide end-of-session review
CHESTER — Representatives from Maryland’s 36h District gathered with Queen Anne’s County business owners and community on April 20 to review the recently closed General Assembly session at the Hilton Garden Inn. The annual legislative wrap-up breakfast was hosted by the county’s Chamber of Commerce.
Moving throughout the four-county region the District 36 team represents — Queen Anne’s, Kent, Cecil and Caroline — Sen. Steve Hershey (R-36-Upper Shore) and Dels. Steve Arentz (R-36-Queen Anne), Jeff Ghrist (R-36-Caroline) and Jay Jacobs (R-36-Kent) reviewed key wins and loses on the county and state levels.
Hershey, who opened up the wrap-up after everyone ate, said the 90-day session was a win for Gov. Larry Hogan as much of his “robust package” of legislation was put into action. In his third legislative session, Hershey said, Hogan had 16 pieces of legislation he either introduced or aided in were passed.
One of those “wins” Hershey mentioned was the More Jobs for Marylanders Act that through the Department of Commerce authorizes tax credits for manufacturing businesses that create jobs. Hershey said the act provides incentives for employee training as well as allows businesses to accelerate the deductions for all its capital assets.
The repeal of the Transportation Transparency Act, known by the governor as the Road Kill Bill, was a major highlight, Hershey said. Using a scoring system, potential transportation projects would have been graded and funding for the highest
ranking scores would have been given, which Hershey said was “heavily weighted to metropolitan and urban areas” and that rural counties would have never gotten money.
Now the counties meet with the Maryland Department of Transportation and list specific priority projects to potentially be added to the state’s Consolidated Transportation Program plan.
To help incentivize first responders to stay working in the state, the Hometown Heroes Act was passed that allows employees of law enforcement, fire, EMT and other first response units to claim up to $15,000 of credit from their pensions in their income taxes, Hershey said.
Arentz, who sits on the House Economic Matters Committee, spoke about the passage of a bill that allowed for an anonymous two-way texting system schools can purchase that allows students to communicate about bullying and other nefarious activity going on.
Other bills that passed included the Drunk Driving Act that states the charge can become a felony if pulled over multiple times; Less Testing More Learning Act that states school’s can “only test two-percent for instructional time,” stemming from the amount of testing students currently have, Arentz said.
Though not “jumping up and down” about the governor’s Common Sense Paid Sick Leave Bill, Arentz said it offered small businesses a tax credit for giving paid sick leave to employees.
Ghrist, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, informed the Chamber about the upcoming budget. He said he was able to “walk away with quite a few wins” and that the “losses just didn’t seem like they hurt as bad as they had the last couple of years,” and called the session a great success.
Ghrist said the budget has no new tax increases for the third consecutive year and said it is “refreshing to see a very responsible budget,” mentioning that during Gov. Martin O’Malley’s eight years as governor many new taxes were created.
He said Hogan included $51 million to the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Based Trust fund as well as record funding in education. Ghrist said about 2.5 percent of the 3.5 percent revenue increase the state received will be added to its fund balance, calling the operating budget “responsible.”
The capital budget, Ghrist said, is what the legislature is concerned about as “we honestly aren’t doing a lot to deal with our structural debt in the state.”
The capital budget is made up of money collected through property taxes, which Ghrist said is not increasing at the same rate as the state’s debt service is increasing. He said it is a serious concern moving for ward.
Follow Mike Davis on Twitter: @mike_kibaytimes.