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Legislators roll dice again on charitable gaming

Nonprofit casino night fundraisers, retirement pension taxes and road repair money are some of the big priorities for Carroll County legislators as they prepare for the 2015 General Assembly session.

A new Republican governor and the state's $1.2 billion structural deficit over the next two fiscal years has generated uncertainty among some of Maryland's delegates and senators. But one of Carroll County's biggest priorities among the uncertainty is passing a charitable gambling bill, which would allow civic organizations, amateur athletic groups and others to hold casino nights to raise money.

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The Carroll County delegation has proposed the legislation every session since 2009, and while it hasn't been passed for myriad reasons, the delegation plans to try it again this year.

"That would be a significant boost for our nonprofits in Carroll County," said Del.-elect Haven Shoemaker, R-District 5. "They need another source of revenue to raise money for their worthwhile causes."

Del. Justin Ready, R-District 5, said the delegation felt like they were close to getting it passed last year. The bill received multiple readings, but was recommitted to the House of Delegates Ways and Means Committee.

"I'm hopeful," Ready said. "It is a challenging environment to raise money."

Del. Susan Krebs, R-District 5, said an issue she hopes to tackle is re-evaluating the state's pension exclusion tax program. Only certain pension incomes can be subtracted from a resident's gross federal income to decrease their total tax burden. But residents with traditional IRA, Roth IRA's, Keogh Plan, an ineligible deferred compensation plan, and a simplified employee plan don't qualify.

Krebs wants to expand the exclusion to all pensions.

"I want to make sure all people's retirement income is treated equally," she said.

Another big issue for counties all over Maryland is expanding access to the Highway User Revenues, which is collected gas tax and vehicle registration money. Thirty percent of the money raised was originally delivered to local governments, but that was decreased to 10 percent in 2010 to help the state recover from the recession.

Del.-elect David Vogt, R-District 4, said getting that money back is necessary, but will take some time. The recent 3-cent gas tax increase can help regenerate those funds, he said.

"Obviously that was a huge hit to our local government," Vogt said.

While Carroll County's delegates and senators have plans, many legislators are uncertain what they will be able to do during Republican Gov.-elect Larry Hogan's first year in office. Hogan is building his budget to begin tackling the state's $750 million structural deficit next fiscal year, and his pending cuts could slice into the county's share of state money.

Lowered state aid to education, which could be cut especially if Hogan's administration tinkers with the long-standing funding formulas, could have an impact on Carroll County.

Carroll County Public School systems enrollment has decreased, causing the county to lose state money, Ready said.

"It is difficult for us. ... We are trying to get a little bit of help from the state to be held harmless from loss of population," he said. "We are losing money by losing enrollment."

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The delegates and senators will begin their work Wednesday, Jan. 14, after being sworn in. Hogan will be inaugurated on Jan. 21 and then must submit his budget Jan. 23. Once his budget is on the table, residents and legislators will have a better idea how his cuts and budget plans will affect local governments.

Reach Chase Cook by email at ccook@capgaznews.com.

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