General Assembly Wraps with 'Unfinished Business' in Prince George's County

Gale Horton Gay | , WI Staff Writer | 4/18/2012, 3:02 p.m.

The 2012 Maryland legislative session has wrapped up with the approval of a number of bills and measures that are expected to benefit Prince George's County and its residents, however, several officials characterize the session as one of "unfinished business."

That's because despite the passage of 791 bills during this session, no decisions were reached on numerous others including a tax increase to cover the administration's proposed budget. While budget activity focused on attempts to reduce the structural deficit to eliminate the shortfall between general fund revenues and spending, lawmakers couldn't reach accord on a state budget. This led to the so-called "doomsday" budget with a half-billion dollars in contingent cuts in education, public safety, libraries and other programs going into effect. Prince George's County is facing $70 million in cuts, according to one expert. These cuts go into effect July 1 if the legislature doesn't come back in to session and pass a revenue measure.

Officials are crossing their fingers that Governor Martin O'Malley will call legislators back for a special session this summer. Some speculate that it might be difficult getting legislators to return to Annapolis with summer vacation plans already in place.

"Nobody wants to come back to vote a bunch of taxes in," said Octavia Caldwell, chair of the legislative action committee of the Prince George's County Chamber of Commerce.

In a speech the governor gave in Annapolis on April 10, O'Malley praised the General Assembly for the work it completed.

"This session accomplished some significant things for jobs," said O'Malley. "We came together on fair, bipartisan redistricting, both legislatively and Congressional redistricting. We came together to protect the rights of individuals and religious freedom under the Marriage Equality Act. We also did really important and difficult things on stormwater, on investing in upgrades to sewage treatment plants, on stopping the proliferation of the inevitable pollution that flows into our streams from septics."

However, he then admonished legislators for not passing the proposed budget and failing to protect education, law enforcement and residents of the state.

The 90-day session, which began Jan. 11 and concluded on April 9, resulted in successfully securing:

* $10 million in capital funding and $15 in operating funding for Prince George's County Hospital System

* Authority to collect civil penalties from property owners for maintaining or abating nuisance on properties on the State Foreclosure Property Registry

* Environmental protections related to storm water that will help the county to meet federal environmental mandates

* An increase in the legal age to drop out of school from 15 to 16 and to 17 in five years

One bill that pleases Prince George's County's top leader is HB 898 which authorizes PGC's to allow exemptions from county property tax for economic development projects.

"Our county is poised to be the economic engine of the Washington region, and this legislation allows us to have another tool to spur development and increase our commercial tax base," said Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, who proposed the legislation.