Political Notebook: Guzzone fundraising for possible exec. bid

Del. Guy Guzzone has $100,274 in campaign cash put aside, likely enough to pay for another run for the General Assembly, but he said his annual home pizza party should boost that total by at least $35,000 as he ponders a run for higher office.

"I have not made a decision what I'm going to run for, but county executive is high on the list of possibilities," he said Monday. Thursday evening, his tune didn't change as he spoke to about 200 people, many of them donors who filled his driveway, garage and front lawn eating free pizza.

"Lots of people want to know what's next," he said, standing on a wooden chair. "Stay tuned," he said, as County Councilwoman Courtney Watson, a potential rival for the executive's job, stood behind him. Guzzone pointed out that there is a lot that must happen before serious planning for the 2014 county elections takes place.

"We're going to be electing a president in 11/2 years," he said before the event. "There's redistricting. It's all 'blah, blah, blah' at this point," he added, characterizing speculation on the county's political scene. Guzzone, a Democrat, is a two-term County Council veteran who is in his second term as a member of the House of Delegates representing District 13, which covers southeastern Howard County.

He considered running for county executive in 2006 but decided not to, which opened the way for then- freshman Councilman Ken Ulman, who is now in his second term as executive and is prohibited from running again.

Watson, a former school board member in her second council term, can run for one more council term before term limits end her council career, but that would mean she'd probably have to run against an incumbent executive in 2018. Guzzone could run for unlimited General Assembly terms, but as Ulman's close ally, he may decide this is his best shot at the top job and at achieving his own goals for the county.

Guzzone has said he and Watson talk about the possibilities from time to time, though he added that there are plenty of other potential candidates for executive. His hope is that there won't be a difficult primary fight that could split the Democrats, but there are no guarantees.

"I'm hopeful whoever runs or thinks of running can have that discussion and work out something that's agreeable," he said. "We're all friends."

Angela Beltram, a Democrat and former council member who'd like to see Watson run for the county's top job, said she expects a primary fracas, and she'd welcome one. "I enjoy that kind of thing," she said. Watson and Guzzone might both be Democrats, but they represent different parts of the county, and if they're both determined to run for executive, they will. "I think there will be a [primary] contest," she said.

Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a former county executive, said a Democratic primary doesn't have to damage the party in the general election. "There's a difference between a contest and a fight," she said.

Bobo on lump sum contributions

Some might have been surprised to see Bobo's name among those listed in a Baltimore Sun article last Sunday about elected officials who report small donations lumped together as one contribution on their state campaign finance reports. The article, by reporter Julie Bykowicz, called the practice a loophole, but Bobo, a champion of campaign finance reform, said she's proud of her inclusion on the list and wasn't surprised at all.

"I don't call this a loophole," she said. "I'm proud of those contributors. I don't see a risk." Bobo said she strives to collect those small amounts to finance her campaigns with donations from everyday voters, rather than the big developers, lawyers, builders and consultants who foot much of the bill for many other candidates.

"All of mine come from my once-a-year picnic," she said."I know these people."

As a legislator who has annually sponsored a bill to close a frequently used corporate campaign finance loophole, Bobo said the problem isn't small contributors but big business owners who give the maximum $4,000 to a candidate from each of numerous limited liability corporations they control.

"We know that's being abused," Bobo said. The bill has been approved by the House of Delegates several times, but the Maryland Senate has killed it.

Maryland is one of 49 states that allows candidates to lump small contributors, in this case those who give less than $51, into one sum on a campaign finance report. The candidates are required to keep records of who these contributors are but don't have to disclose the contributors' names on the reports. Bykowicz reported that $4.3 million was accounted for this way during the four-year 2010 campaign cycle. That included including $12,819 for Bobo, the 11th-highest number in the state.

Nevertheless, if the General Assembly decides to change the law to require that every contributor, no matter how small, be listed on reports, Bobo said she would "absolutely" vote for it.

This year, Bobo did vote for Del John A. Olszewski Jr.'s bill that would limit lump sum reporting to $25,000 per cycle. She doesn't accept cash anyway, she said, and every donor is listed in her computer records. Bobo has traditionally not raised large amounts of money for her House campaigns, relying on a core of devoted supporters for financial support.

Her last report in January showed her with $22,865 left in the bank after beating a primary challenger and easily winning re-election in single-member District 12B in west Columbia.

Constant yield

It may be hard to imagine politicians unwilling to brag about saving homeowners money by collecting less property tax revenue in this tax-conscious national atmosphere.

But the Howard County Council has decided that because county home values have declined enough to produce less property tax revenue than the previous year — the first time that's happened — they won't hold the annual constant yield public hearing (and pay for published announcements about it) required under state law in years when the reverse is true.

Every year but this one, county officials were forced to comply with state law designed to tell voters that if their property tax bills are higher, it's the fault of county officials for not lowering the property tax rate, not state government, which places a value on each taxpayer's home.

This fiscal year. falling home values mean the property tax, including Howard's separate fire property tax, will produce less revenue than last fiscal year, though some individual homeowners still will still see higher bills because they are slowly eating through long-term tax credits. The result is that the county property tax rate of $1.014 per $100 of assessed value is nearly one penny lower than the $1.023 constant yield rate. That means the county could increase the rate a collect the difference of $3.9 million, but there are no plans to do that. Why not broadcast that to voters?

Council Chairman Calvin Ball, an east Columbia Democrat, said he considered that, but decided against it.

"Most people really don't understand the issue anyway, and this would likely further confuse them" he said. Besides, "it seemed an unnecessary use of taxpayer dollars," and council members are very busy working through the county budget. "This seemed like the right thing to do."

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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