County faring well in Annapolis, including in state budget

Community Times
County faring well in Annapolis, including in state budget[Reisterstown]

Baltimore County is off to a good start in 2017 in the state capital.

First, the county survived the annual "begathon" at the Board of Public Works, where 24 local school superintendents beg for more construction funds.

Last year, Baltimore County was bludgeoned by Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot over the large number of county schools lacking air-conditioning.

But now there's a plan in place and the state board tempered its criticism this time, releasing $10 million withheld from county public schools last year.

This improves chances that Reisterstown Elementary, Church Lane Elementary and Franklin Middle School will have brand-new air-conditioning this fall.

The county also fared well when the governor released his budget last month.

Baltimore County gained nearly $26 million in new state aid. Only Prince George's County received a bigger boost ($33.7 million).

Most of that money flows to public schools under a mandated formula. The county's direct education aid rose 3.4 percent in Hogan's budget, or $21 million.

Unfortunately, there will be less money going toward local health (a reduction of $395,000), police aid (minus $59,000) and retirement aid (off by $4.4 million).

Compared with losses in other large jurisdictions (Baltimore City lost $42 million in Hogan's budget), Towson's government fared well.

Also in January, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz released his legislative agenda for Annapolis. It's a combination of local imperatives and proposals that will help his campaign for statewide office.

It's no accident Kamenetz maneuvered to become chairman of the Maryland Association of Counties this year to assist him in publicizing his State House activities.

Thus, his agenda includes a non-county issue — opposing underground hydraulic fracturing, a controversial process that taps oil and gas deposits. This only affects far Western Maryland, but "fracking" is strongly opposed by environmentalists — a key group in Democratic primaries.

Another popular cause — forcing pharmaceutical firms to lower prescription drugs prices — is on Kamenetz's list. It is there mostly for political reasons.

An overhaul of the state's money-based bail system is being pushed, too, which is a cause celebre among prison-reform advocates in Baltimore City, which could be a pivotal jurisdiction in the 2018 primaries.

On another front, Kamenetz is supporting standards for local police as to how they store rape kits. Thousands of these kits remain untested; many have been destroyed. A uniform, statewide policy is needed.

A key transportation priority this year is getting construction money for the Dolfield Boulevard interchange on I-795 at Pleasant Hill Road in Owings Mills. This $150 million project would give businesses and residents near fast-growing Red Run Boulevard better and quicker access to and from the interstate. It's shovel-ready, with federal and environmental approval in hand.

The hang-up is Hogan's overcommitment to other state road projects, too little transportation revenue and the governor's decision to politicize this program.

Hogan is demanding Democratic legislators repeal a law that requires a ranking of highway projects according to their value. It's strictly an advisory list, but Hogan has opted to use "alternative facts," claiming that this will force him to kill 66 major projects, including the I-795 interchange.

Even the attorney general says Hogan's version of the truth isn't so. But the governor is after political points to pressure lawmakers.

Democrats seem willing to modify the law, which might be enough to calm the angry governor.

For sure, Kamenetz will be spending considerable time in the State House.

He's already been chastised and warned about paying more attention to members of the Baltimore County delegation. We'll know in mid-April how well he succeeds.

Barry Rascovar's blog is www.politicalmaryland.com. He can be reached at brascovar@hotmail.com

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