Revenue sources, cost controls top agenda of General Assembly session

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Bearing long and varied wish lists, legislative delegations from Baltimore and surrounding counties arrive in Annapolis today for the start of the General Assembly session.

In these fiscally tough times, counties are looking for ways to raise new revenue and control costs.

In the city, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's list is topped by a proposal that would alter how auto insurance companies calculate insurance bills for city residents. The mayor is also proposing two plans for increasing state aid to the city.

Roger B. Hayden, the Baltimore County executive, is backing a bill that would shift 50 percent of the risk for failed economic loans to the state. Members of the Harford delegation will seek at least $3.8 million from the state -- the majority of which would go toward education.

Legislators from both Anne Arundel and Howard counties have proposed raising money for domestic violence programs by raising fees for county marriage licenses. Carroll County commissioners have asked for line-item veto power over the school board's budget.

Baltimore

Mayor Schmoke's insurance bill, which is based on a plan used in Michigan, would limit the disparities in insurance rates created by geographic rating factors in Maryland. Under the mayor's proposal, insurance premiums would be based primarily on driving records and less on the so-called territorial rating by insurance companies.

The mayor is also proposing a major change in the state's largestschool aid program, pumping up to several hundred million dollars more each year into less-wealthy school districts, including Baltimore.

The change would alter the funding formula for the Action Plan For Educational Excellence program, or APEX, which gives money to local school systems for basic expenses, including teacher salaries, books and classroom supplies. The change would require the state to pick up more of the cost of educating students under the complicated APEX formula, which is based on the average per-pupil cost statewide.

The second aid proposal would change the formula for so-called disparity grants to increase aid to poorer jurisdictions, beginning in the fiscal year that begins July 1, 1994. Under Mr. Schmoke's plan the city would get increases each year between 1995 and 1998, with about $5 million in the first year, finance officials said. Last year the city received $29 million under the program.

Mr. Schmoke's proposals include:

* A law in the city against carrying shotguns and rifles. Apparently, because of what the mayor described as "a loophole," there is no prohibition, unless the weapon is concealed.

* Increasing the Police Department's Complaint Evaluation Board from seven members to nine -- a scaled-back version of a plan sent to the mayor by the City Council.

* Allowing Bureau of Transportation workers who now direct traffic to be able to issue citations for moving violations.

Baltimore County

With County Executive Roger B. Hayden still deciding how to cut the size of county government to handle permanent state aid cuts, countylobbyist Patrick Roddy said the focus this year is to prevent new problems.

Until the county reorganization is complete, he said, the county is merely trying to avoid any new costs the state may seek to unload on local government, rather than initiate new county-state programs.

A handful of local bills will get Mr. Hayden's support, including:

* A bill seeking a division of liability between the state and county in economic loan programs. The county currently assumes all of the risk if a loan fails. The bill would seek a 50-50 split.

* A measure seeking state education aid reimbursement for full-time kindergartners in the county based on their new status as all-day students. The county began 32 all-day kindergarten programs this year.

Anne Arundel County

County leaders want a legislative resolution to the war of wills between the sheriff and the county executive.

Robert R. Neall, the executive, is angry with the sheriff for overspending his budget twice in two years and asking the County Council for more money. He has asked the delegation for a bill to give the county control over the Sheriff's Office budget.

Meanwhile, Robert G. Pepersack Sr., the sheriff, claims that the county didn't give him enough money to run his office. He has asked for a measure that would allow his office to keep the fees his deputies collect, rather than turn them into the county's general fund.

To make more money, Mr. Neall has asked for a bill to allow the county to charge an additional $45 fee on top of the standard $10 marriage license fee to finance domestic violence programs. The county currently charges an additional $35.

Carroll County

In a package of proposed bills, the Carroll County commissioners have asked for legislation that would give them line-item veto power over the school board budget.

The commissioners also want to be able to review and reduce funds for the school board that were previously approved by the county. About 50 percent of the county's $115 million budget is earmarked for the school system.

Harford County

Harford delegates plan to seek state money for a building to house an apprenticeship program at the community college, an expansion of the Sexual Assault/Spouse Abuse Resource Center, and an addition to Bel Air Middle School.

The county is renewing an earlier failed bid to get $2 million in state money for a $4.8 million 300-student addition to Bel Air Middle.

Harford's delegates also will try again this session to get the $1.5 million for the Harford Community College project, designed to train people to work in new technical industries, which the county has been trying to attract. State officials had rejected the first request for the HCC project.

Howard County

Some of the most noteworthy bills proposed for Howard County focus on the suburb's major issue -- development. Two competing ethics bills attempt to shed light on the relationship between developers and local politicians. A third bill calls for the creation of a county economic development authority to compete with the surrounding area for jobs.

A bipartisan ethics bill would expand financial disclosure requirements for county public officials. Anyone with a 5 percent interest in a rezoning request would have to submit an affidavit disclosing contributions of more than $500 to a Howard official during a four-year period.

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