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Opening Day At The General Assembly: A Preview
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January 8, 2013
Just when you thought political news might quiet down for awhile, the General Assembly is coming back to Annapolis tomorrow for what might be some noisy battles ahead. WYPR’s Karen Hosler has been roaming the State House for clues and filed this report.
Karen Hosler: The small, black synthetic rugs where visitors wipe their feet before troding the marble floors of the State House are getting a lot of vacuum attention these days. Phillip McGowans, of the Department of General Services, says the oldest legislative building in America that is still in its original business must be spotless when the 2013 class of legislators arrives tomorrow.
Phillip McGowans: “Session’s getting ready to come in and so we got to have it clean.”
Hosler: After meeting five times over the past two years—including three acrimonious sessions last year—some members of the four hundred thirty third General Assembly may not be so eager to return to Annapolis. The bitter dispute over expanded gambling is settled for now. But battles over gun control, the death penalty, transportation and school construction await. House Speaker Michael Busch says he’s taking nothing for granted.
Michael Busch: “It’s been a pretty intense two years.... Just when you think you can take a deep breath, you never know.”
Hosler: Surely among the major controversies will be Governor Martin O’Malley’s drive to find a new source of funds to upgrade the transportation network--especially mass transit in the Baltimore and Washington metropolitan areas.
Martin O’Malley: “We know that we need better transit in this highly congested area of our country, and yet we also know that we’ve been addressing our transportation needs with a flat tax on a per gallon of gasoline that hasn’t changed since 1992 when the price of gas was $1.08 and now it’s up in the $3:80’s.
Hosler: Raising the gas tax would be hard enough to do under any circumstances, says Senate President Mike Miller. But in this case the task is complicated because people in rural parts of the state don’t think they should help pay for mass transit.
Mike Miller: “And if you want to fund rapid transit, then the people who use the rapid transit should be paying for the rapid transit, which means the riders and the people in the metropolitan areas. That’s quite frankly the dynamics we’re dealing with.”
Hosler: State Senator Joe Getty, a Republican who represents parts of Carroll and Baltimore counties, said many of his colleagues don’t think any gas tax money should be directed toward mass transit.
Joe Getty: “What the rural legislators would like to see is the gas tax that is currently raised from automobile gas usage be used for roads.”
Hosler: Speaker Busch is already busily making the case that the various parts of the state have routinely supported each other over the years—particularly in school funding. But he’s not yet sure what combination of taxes or other revenue sources the legislature would accept. Senate President Miller says the prospects for any sort of tax increase this year are dim, and that much of the burden lies with O’Malley.
Miller: “It takes a governor calling up people one by one, stressing that this is one for the state.... Nowadays with this gotcha hype everybody’s afraid to make a responsible vote to move the state forward.”
Hosler: Sounds like there won’t be much time for a deep breath. I’m Karen Hosler, reporting from Annapolis, for 88.1 WYPR.
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