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General Assembly stages electronic town meeting Citizens finally get turn after officials, panel speak


General Assembly leaders staged Maryland's first electronic town meeting last night, but the townspeople had to wait awhile before getting a chance to speak.

Elected officials and a prechosen panel of economists and a business executive dominated the first hour of the one-hour-and-45-minute meeting, which focused on ways to create more jobs in Maryland.

Even so, the get-together broke new ground. It was conducted through the state's high-tech Distance Learning network, allowing participants in Owings Mills, Rockville, Salisbury and Aberdeen to discuss tax cuts, burdensome regulations and other economic development issues as if they were all in the same room.

James Brady, secretary of the state Department of Business and Economic Development -- who was in the audience at the Maryland Public Television site in Owings Mills -- called for a personal income tax rate reduction and a 30-day permit process for businesses as two ways of improving the state's business climate.

When everyday citizens finally got a chance to speak, one from Rockville asked why state colleges are not more closely attuned to the work force needs of the businesses in their communities. Another from Salisbury asked lawmakers if they would give the state's economic development efforts the financial backing needed to compete with other states.

Others talked about casino gambling, health care reform and an jTC aid program for the disabled poor.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., co-host of the event, said at the outset that he hoped the meeting would be a success so the technology could be used again to debate other topics.

Last night's show was not televised live. Maryland Public Television expects to offer viewers a report of the meeting as part of its Inside Maryland news show at 7 p.m. tonight and then televise an edited half-hour version on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.

Also at Owings Mills, House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. said it was time the state found a method of financing costly mass transit services without using revenue from the gasoline tax.

The "electronic town meeting" was Mr. Taylor's brainchild and marked the first time the state's Distance Learning Network has been used for such a purpose. He and his aides said they also wanted to demonstrate that economic, education and other issues are interrelated.

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