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Ulman says transportation bill will have biggest impact on Howard

The transportation package passed by the General Assembly, including an increase in the gas tax, will have the most immediate impact on Howard County residents, but legislation out of Annapolis this year has little effect on the county budget, according to County Executive Ken Ulman.

Ulman, a supporter of the plan aimed at restoring funding in the transportation trust fund, said April 12 that of all the bills passed in Annapolis this year, the gas tax will have the biggest impact on county residents.

But he was grateful that the state didn't send the county any new bills as he finalizes his fiscal 2014 budget, set to be released Friday.

"From my perspective, I'm grateful that for the first time in a number of years, counties were not cut (funding)," Ulman said.

Ulman said the biggest impact from legislation in Annapolis to his 2014 budget is the continued phase-in of the teacher pension shift from last year.

The county is expected to contribute $12.4 million this year to fund teacher pensions, up from $9.8 million in fiscal 2013. By fiscal 2016, the county will be paying $17.2 million to fund teacher pensions, according to county budget director Ray Wacks.

Ulman added that he is "hopeful" the state has begun to turn the corner out of the recession and will soon start restoring some funding to local governments that has been cut over recent years.

"When the state says, 'We're not cutting you again,' its still at last year's baseline level, which was after years of cuts," he said.

He cited the highway user revenue (HUR) funds as a potential candidate, which were at $16 million when he took office in 2007, but have since dropped to $400,000 this year.

While residents will begin paying more at the pump this summer, Ulman said the transportation package passed by the General Assembly puts the state in position to begin investing in a number of state projects affecting Howard County.

"We're square in the middle of the state, so we need the state to be a significant partner with transportation," he said

These projects include an additional lane on Route 29, improvements to Route 32 and potential expansion of the MARC train service.

"The MARC train, in my mind, is a real untapped resource," Ulman said. "I'm hopeful now that we'll have the opportunity to move some of those projects forward."

Reflecting on the locals bills passed in Annapolis, Ulman said he was "glad" the Merriweather bill and a collection of bond bills totaling $900,000 for county projects were passed.

"I think it was a success, especially compared to some of the tougher decisions that have had to be made in the past few years," he said.

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