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Delegation says county stands to lose $1 million in special session

By Jim Joyner, Carroll Eagle, jjoyner@patuxent.com

10:40 PM EDT, May 6, 2012

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Carroll County's Delegation to Annapolis said this past week that the county would be better off under the state's "doomsday" budget, and stands to lose some $1 million in state funding in a special session of the Maryland General Assembly.

In a May 3 meeting with the Board of County Commissioners in Westminster — one day before Gov. Martin O'Malley announced a special session to convene May 14 — members of the delegation said the "doomsday" budget actually represents one that they feel is more fiscally responsible ... and winds up better for the county.

"I challenge that moniker ... it's not a doomsday budget," said Sen. David Brinkley (R-Dist. 4). "Frankly, the budget still goes up by $700 million, and I think the citizens are expecting us to live within our means as they are having to do so."

Legislators said even with cuts under the "doomsday" budget, Carroll County would actually be better off under that scenario than if a special session happened.

State Sen. Joe Getty (R-Dist 5), who chairs the Carroll delegation, said that because certain elements of the budget didn't pass in the 2012 General Assembly stalemate, Carroll County wound up with more money than it's likely to get if the General Assembly takes another run at a budget reconciliation.

For instance, he said, one big expense to the county that didn't happen was the passing of teacher pension costs from the state to the county— an obligation of $4 million, Getty said.

When the legislature goes back to Annapolis, that shift of teacher pensions is expected as part of the budget reconciliation plan, in addition to any tax package that might be considered.

Another example, Getty said, is $365,000 that the county is slated to receive in Program Open Space. The money survived in the session that ended last month, but Getty said, "Don't plan on spending it, because in the special session it'll be taken away."

Overall, he said, the county is likely to lose $1 million in direct funding through the special session.

Also, Getty said that while the county school system lost about $2.6 million through cuts, another $2 million in cuts didn't happen. Because of the failure of its budget reconciliation package, the state failed to make planned per-pupil cuts.

"This budget is better for our county as it stands now than if we go back," said State Del. Justin Ready (R-Dist. 5A).

"Doomsday is looking pretty good," said Commissioner Haven Shoemaker.

Meanwhile, though, other jurisdictions, he said — such as Baltimore City andPrince George's County— are better off if a special session does occur, because grants that would be cut under the "doomsday" plan will likely become funded.

In addition to the budget, other issues remained unresolved in Annapolis at the close of the 2012 session, including a gaming bill proposing an additional casino inPrince George's County— and a measure that would allow fire stations in Carroll County to host gaming-related fundraisers.

Though it was not part of O'Malley's May 4 announcement, delegation members said there is speculation that there may be a separate, second special session in August to discuss the gaming issue. But at their meeting with the commissioners, delegation members said they were unclear whether the county's gaming bill would be taken up if that session materializes.

Getty questions redistricting petition

Also at the joint meeting, amid other issues facing the county and state, Getty raised several questions about a Maryland Court of Appeals filing this past week by three commissioners and three delegates to challenge the state legislative redistricting.

At their Tuesday, May 1, meeting — the deadline for filing such a challenge — commissioners Doug Howard, David Roush and Richard Rothschild voted to join a petition with state delegates Susan Krebs (R-Dist. 9B), Nancy Stocksdale (R-Dist. 5A) and Don Elliott (R-Dist. 4B) to challenge the redrawing of district lines in Carroll that, they said, would weaken the county's political clout in Annapolis.

The petition claims that the state-approved plan "packs" four current delegates into one district vying for three seats, and places other areas of the county in districts that will likely be dominated by neighbor counties — namely Howard and Frederick.

Getty said he believes the petition is inappropriate because, "in the petition, as written, you are six individuals filing in the Court of Appeals."

"How is the county attorney representing private individuals?" he asked.

Getty said the Board of County Commissioners doesn't have the authority to sue the state; and if members of the board or the delegation are petitioning as individuals, they shouldn't use the county attorney to do it.

"It raises several issues for you both, as bodies, in terms of ethics considerations," Getty said, "because you're using county tax dollars for private individual representation."

Getty said he believes the State's Attorney General could dismiss the motion — based on whether the commissioners have "standing." But if not, the county attorney could be obliged to meet several deadlines in May, June, July, August for filings pertaining to the case, as well as hearing dates, to prepare a county case.

While the initial filing was just $50, Getty suggested taking a case to the Maryland Court of Appeals could cost $30,000 to $50,000, and he said a similar challenge to the redistricting in 2000 cost the Republican Party some $210,000 in legal fees.

"The commitment of staff time here is not insignificant. My concern is over county tax dollars," he said.

Howard declined to discuss the filing at the meeting, but later the commissioners issued a statement saying that County Attorney Timothy Burke, affirmed that the filing was legal, and that, "his office represents the county as a whole, including the Board of County Commissioners and each commissioner individually in their capacity as commissioner."

The statement said the county attorney's office, "has filed similar suits in the past on behalf of the commissioners in their individual capacities, which have included other individuals and elected officials."

The statement said, "The future cost of litigation is unknown, but will be closely monitored by the commissioners as this suit proceeds through the court process. Three other groups have filed similar petitions against the legislative redistricting proposal and the county will explore sharing costs for experts and other professionals with these petitioners."