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Laurel Leader

2015 session brings funding for Armory renovation, Towne Centre liquor store license

The 435th General Assembly legislative session came to a close April 13 with the usual down-to-the-wire whirlwind of negotiations and voting.

Legislators passed a $40 billion budget, avoiding the possibility of a 10-day session extension, and restored $200 million in cuts to education funding, state employee pay raises and support for health care programs.

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With partisan tension evident between the Democrat-dominated assembly and Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, it wasn't immediately clear exactly how much money the Laurel area would see from the state next fiscal year.

While Democratic legislators want Hogan to spend more on the priorities they outlined, Hogan might not spend that $200 million at all, he told reporters as the session wound down the night of April 13.

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In a statement released after the budget passed, Hogan said he was "concerned that the budget passed by the legislature does not provide the fiscal discipline that Maryland taxpayers expect and deserve."

Meanwhile, state Sen. Jim Rosapepe, a Democrat who represents the Laurel area, released a statement calling Hogan's opposition to some elements of the budget "Washington-style partisan gridlock."

In Prince George's County, the school system stands to gain about $20 million more in funds, or roughly $10,000 per school, if Hogan decides to spend the fenced-off funds.

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In Howard County, the additional funds are much lower, at $2.5 million. In February, Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman wrote to Hogan asking him to restore $6.6 million in direct state aid to the county.

"There is still a lot of uncertainty at this point," said Howard Budget Director Holly Sun. "We'll have to wait ... until we can see what's going to be put in the budget."

Laurel did see some more concrete plans emerge from the session, however.

As part of the city's effort to rejuvenate with the Towne Centre at Laurel, the legislature gave its stamp of approval to a bill that will allow the shopping center to open a liquor store. Lawmakers capped Towne Centre's alcoholic beverage permits at six; the other five permits can only be used for restaurants.

The Laurel Armory, an 88-year-old building on Montgomery Street that is used for Parks and Recreation-sponsored classes and workshops as well as indoor sports programs, received funding to continue renovations to its bathrooms, electrical and plumbing systems and indoor facilities.

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A local figure helped pass a bill that will have statewide implications. Joe Fisher, founder of First Generation College Bound – a Laurel-based nonprofit that supports low- and moderate-income youth in the college application process and beyond – worked with Sen. Jim Rosapepe on passing the Maryland Higher Education Outreach and College Access pilot program.

The program, similar to FGCB, would target low-income high school students in a bid to increase their college attendance and graduation rates.


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