As the 2013 Maryland General Assembly session winds down in Annapolis, Harford's lawmakers said they have been kept busy this year with prominent bills, including a repeal of the death penalty, stricter gun controls and higher taxes.
All of Harford's delegates who were present voted against the gasoline tax increase proposed by Gov. Martin O'Malley that made it through the House of Delegates last week and is in the State Senate where it may face a tougher test. Gun control legislation passed the State Senate earlier in the session, opposed by all three Harford senators, and is being heavily debated in the House.
Meanwhile, on the more local front, the long-hoped-for hotel room tax, heavily pushed by county tourism officials, Aberdeen city officials and, this year, Center for the Arts Inc., has once again failed to make it to the House floor and officially died Monday.
Southern Harford Del. Glen Glass said in a news release Monday that despite much support for the measure, "it was sent back to the committee, where it is buried for another year."
"Because this is not a tax on the citizens of Harford County, but a way to support local development, I helped to get it out of committee by co-sponsoring the bill," Glass wrote.
Harford's elected officials have mostly been "playing defense" on more prominent statewide issues, as Western Harford Del. Pat McDonough put it, with the Republican legislators facing off against a largely Democratic General Assembly. This year's session concludes at midnight on Monday, April 8.
"We are controlled by tax-and-spend Democrats," McDonough said late last week. "The best we can do is the Ray Lewis approach: We play hard defense."
Northern Harford Sen. Barry Glassman said he did manage to save Harford County Public Schools about $2.1 million in state aid that will be returned. The county's school system was set to get a $4.1 million cut in state funding.
"I was able to work with Carroll County and a couple other rural counties, and we got an amendment in the budget of what is known as a disparity grant," Glassman said. "We are still taking a cut, but we are getting half back."
"Hopefully the House will keep that funding in," he added.
McDonough, meanwhile, put his support behind a bill he said was based on the Baltimore City Criminal Gun Control Act, which would ban any early release from prison or plea bargains for anyone who commits a violent crime.
McDonough also was prepared to scuttle the room tax had it made it to the floor for a vote. "I'm opposed to the room tax and will vote against it," he said.
As with the death penalty repeal and assault weapons bills, McDonough has also came out strongly against the controversial gas tax, as did other Harford elected officials.
No local benefit
"Once again the taxpayers of Maryland are going to get hit with the most oppressive and onerous gas tax in the nation," McDonough said.
Although the gun control bill and gas tax bills are not strictly local, McDonough noted "there are probably a lot of firearms owners in Harford County. There are probably a lot of people who drive quite a bit."
"This is a commuter county. This is going to hit them hard," he said about the gas tax bill. Seven of eight Harford delegates voted against the gas tax increase, including Glass, McDonough, Mary-Dulany James, Susan McComas, H. Wayne Norman, Donna Stifler and Kathy Szeliga. Del. Rick Impallaria was absent and excused and did not vote.
Glassman said Harford's delegates and senators have been opposed to the gas tax increase, death penalty repeal and tougher gun controls. All three senators are Republicans, as are seven of the eight Harford delegates, with James being the only member of the legislature's Democratic majority.
"I think most of the county delegation followed the county's voting patterns," he said. "Most folks are against the governor's gun control bill."