Carroll County’s Legislative Liaison Mike Fowler gave the Board of County Commissioners a brief overview Thursday of what’s been happening in the state capital — including the introduction of more than 800 bills and the Kirwan Commission report.

Among the bills proposed are a few that could affect Carroll County: Topics ranged from the governor’s $500 million tax reduction proposal to same-day voter registration.

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Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, president of the board and a member of the Maryland Association of Counties board, said he shared the same views as MACo on taxes.

“I get the tax thing, which is interesting because that always puts us in a bit of a precarious situation,” he said at the Jan. 31 meeting, “because while tax breaks sound good, most of those are done on the backs of local governments.

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“I said this last year — people said I shouldn’t have said it — but I’ll say again: I could benefit by one of those tax breaks as a retired firefighter,” Wantz said. “But when you start to look at the amount of money we’d have to pony up to allow those tax breaks … I'm not sure where we’d make up the difference.”

Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, told the Times he had similar concerns.

“We have to make this up somewhere, and this scares me,” he said Friday. “When we cut taxes somewhere, it usually filters down somewhere to the county level and we need to make it up — not always, but usually that's the way it looks.”

Kirwan Commission

Fowler said the Kirwan Commission is focused on overhauling curriculum, raising professional standards for teachers, increasing teacher pay, developing and redeveloping career paths in high school, Pre-K for all 4-year-olds, and preschool for 3-year-olds from low-income families — which would be a $3.8 billion package through 2030.

“But the biggest issue in all of this is the funding formulas,” he said, “which have been delayed again. You won’t see them until October of this year.”

“The Kirwan Commission not addressing the funding formula is a huge bother to me,” Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, said, “because it seems to me this county gets short-changed on the distribution. I think it doesn’t sit well in this county.”

Fowler said he was not alone in his opinion.

“It’s clear every county is on board, in the same position; no one knows what’s coming, he said. “It just puts everyone in a bad position because no one is advocating against improving the educational delivering to students, but at the end of the day someone’s gonna write that check.”

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Weaver said most of the bills proposed by the Kirwan Commission are concerning because he believes the recommendations in the report are needed, but that there is not enough accountability.

“I think they’re working on the accountability with it,” he said, “but you can’t request you do something and without accountability. Throwing money at something doesn’t fix it. You’ve got to put the money in and say: ‘What results are we going to get; what problems are we going to solve?’ ”

Voting

Another proposal this session would eliminate the registration deadline in Maryland so voters can register on Election Day.

“[That] is going to require additional staffing in your precincts,” Fowler said. “There is no state funding on that bill, so it would fall directly on you.”

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In regards to voting, Bouchat said he is actually concerned about existing regulations, not the new ones. He said that proposed legislation would require identification for same-day registration but that voters who have already registered do not need to furnish proof of identification.

“There’s a potential abuse that gets mentioned to me by constituents,” Bouchat said to Fowler Thursday. “Is there any language in the bill to address potential abuse on that?”

Fowler said he would check, but that he believes there is a requirement for voters to provide proof of address.

“I believe every voter should have I.D. to reduce voter fraud chances,” Bouchat told the Times Friday. “You need I.D. to board a plane, enter the county office building, schools, etc. Why do we not protect the quality control of our most sacred part of democracy, voting?”

Taking it a step at a time

Commissioner Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, sits on the MACo land use subcommittee.

He said there has been a series of eight to 10 bills introduced about water and sewage, but that the legislative session is still in its early stages.

“They will affect our residents in Carroll County, and it is my intent to stay on top of those bills and advocate for our residents that may need to change their current status or situation,” Rothstein said.

“It looks like it’s going to focus on overall health and welfare for our residents,” he said. “It’s important to keep [Director of Land and Resource Management] Tom [Devilbiss] and [Carroll County Health Officer] Ed Singer aware of the discussions that we’re having and understand the impact or potential impact it may have on our residents.”

He said he is particularly concerned with potential costs, but that it’s too early to say how residents might be impacted financially.

Looking forward

Both Wantz and Rothstein have been at MACo every week representing Carroll County since the legislative session started.

“The importance of keeping open communication and dialogue with our delegation is a great opportunity for both Commissioner Wantz and I,” Rothstein told the Times Friday. “Every Wednesday we are down at MACo legislative sessions taking advantage of the opportunity to meet with our delegation. That cannot be minimized: That’s a really great benefit.”

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He said Fowler can also take direction from the Board of County Commissioners to focus on the issues most important to Carroll.

“It really is a power-play between the commissioners, our staff, our Legislative Liaison Mike Fowler, and our delegation,” Rothstein said. “And if you want to round it out, the fifth is the state administration — because being down there it is inevitable that we take on the opportunity to meet with key administrators within the government’s administration, and there’s nothing better than having a face-to-face conversation.

“As time moves on over the next few weeks, the month, and some of these bills start really getting to the floor, we will see the impact of them specifically,” he said, “but right now it would be unfair to judge because they’re not there. It’s not really fair to speculate on these types of things. But it is very fair and our responsibility to ensure that Carroll County’s voice is heard as these bills are moving forward.”

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