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Two Howard delegates moving up to Senate as session starts

When Howard County's General Assembly delegation returns to Annapolis next week, its ranks will include two new senators, although they'll be familiar faces around the State House.

Senators-elect Gail Bates and Guy Guzzone have both done a stint in the House of Delegates – Bates for nearly 13 years and Guzzone for eight.

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Bates, a Republican from District 9, which encompasses western Howard and part of Carroll County, will take the seat of Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman, who was inaugurated in December. Guzzone, a Democrat from District 13, which covers parts of Columbia, Jessup, Savage and North Laurel, will be taking the place of retiring state Sen. Jim Robey.

Both Bates and Guzzone said they expected new challenges ahead as they switch to a new chamber.

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For Bates, the move entails an assignment to the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committee. It's a new direction for the politician, who works as an accountant and has spent her entire tenure on the House appropriations committee, which deals with the budget.

"It'll be interesting," Bates said of the change. "I will miss doing the budget, but honestly I am very happy with it."

Guzzone, another self-professed budget wonk, will continue to crunch numbers on the Senate's Budget and Taxation committee. He didn't have to guess at his assignment – it had been announced long before the election, at a 2013 fundraiser, where Senate president Mike Miller promised him Robey's seat on the committee if his campaign was successful. Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, who represents Howard and Baltimore counties in District 12, is the committee's chair.

In the Senate, Guzzone said he hopes for a challenge, but also an opportunity to "keep doing some of the things we've been doing," including procuring state money for local nonprofits.

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Guzzone left the House on a high note last session: He supported legislation that successfully increased the funding formula for grants that pay the salaries of caretakers for people with developmental disabilities.

Guzzone called the bill "probably the single most important thing I've done since I've been down here," and hopes to pass a similar funding increase for mental health services this session.

He acknowledged that efforts to trim the budget might make it more difficult to expand funding this year. But, he said, in his view, news of the state's $1.2 billion deficit has been overplayed.

"We have been told, and the media is reporting, that we're in this budgetary crisis. Well, we've been in a budgetary crisis, if those are the guidelines, for a long, long time, through multiple administrations," Guzzone said.

He said legislators set aspirational funding formulas, and then readjust as necessary to meet the fiscal realities of a given budget cycle.

"You're trying to accomplish something, and you want to set a goal. You don't want to set a goal that you want to do less than you think is needed. But then you have to adjust, and we do," he said.

Bates struck a more austere tone on the budget.

"From my perspective, the budget is going to be a big [issue], because that somewhat constrains everything else we can do," she said. "We did have some serious shortfalls, and we have some pressures on our budget. At some point you have to pay the Pied Piper."

Both legislators share an interest in reducing waste in government spending. As members of the joint audit committee, of which Guzzone was House chair, he and Bates worked together to create a process to reduce repeat audits by fining state agencies until they resolve their spending problems.

The two legislators saw a lot of each other in the House, in fact. Last year, Guzzone chaired three committees of which Bates was also a member – Howard's House delegation, the joint audit committee and the subcommittee on public safety – which prompted her to give him the nickname "C3."

In the Senate, Bates says she expects they will still work together on issues they can agree upon.

"The Senate is a much smaller body, and I think because of that, there is a lot of close work between members," she said.

She also sees a new role for her party with the arrival of a Republican governor, Larry Hogan.

"It will be up to us to help him sell his program," she said, although "it will be a little difficult because we don't have the numbers."

Though he anticipates some change when he takes his seat in the Senate, Guzzone said his bottom line remained the same.

"The title doesn't mean a whole heck of a lot to me," he said. "It's really about what can you get done? What can you accomplish?"

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