Howard County's excise tax on development will continue to be spent only on roads and not for schools, the county's state legislative delegation decided yesterday.
The group defeated a bill offered by Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a Columbia Democrat, that would have given county officials the option to use the roughly $6 million that rolls in each year for either, or both, purposes.
All three state senators, Democrat Edward J. Kasemeyer and Republicans Martin G. Madden and Christopher J. McCabe, voted against it during a meeting in Annapolis, while a solid bloc of Republican delegates and Del. James E. Malone Jr., a Catonsville Democrat, also voted "no."
In addition to Bobo, Democratic Dels. Shane Pendergrass, Frank S. Turner and John A. Gianetti Jr. supported the bill.
The delegation unanimously killed another county bill that sought sharp increases in liquor license fees -- which haven't been raised in more than 20 years -- and postponed for a week a vote on another measure that would allow newly elected Orphans' Court Judge Sherae M. McNeal to resume practicing law in Columbia.
"I don't think we should divert the money from the roads. That's what it was designed to do," Kasemeyer said after the meeting.
Bobo argued that her bill "does not create a competition between roads and schools for money. That already exists." She disagreed with County Executive James N. Robey, who said it is "premature" to enact such a bill now, before the county has created a new 10-year General Plan. The county Chamber of Commerce also opposed the bill.
"It seems to me this is the time to do it, before they revise and amend growth policies," said Bobo, arguing that money spent on roads won't ease traffic as much as it will speed development, and thus create even more traffic problems. "Houses will come in faster than before, and we're going to be farther and farther behind the eight ball on schools," she said.
The sharpest debate was over the Orphans' Court bill that would allow McNeal to resume practicing law while in her $6,000-a-year elective position. The bill, sponsored by Turner, would add Howard to Harford, Montgomery, Prince George's and Calvert counties and Baltimore as exceptions to the general rule that prohibits private legal practices for such judges.
McNeal didn't learn of the law until after her election, and Turner wants to help her stay in office because she cannot afford to earn only $6,000 a year. "None of us knows all the law. She should have known, but she didn't. Our situation here is to fix it," Turner argued, noting that McNeal advertised herself as a lawyer while running. She and her firm would be barred from practicing estate law even if the bill is approved, he noted.
But several legislators seemed reluctant to change the rules for McNeal.
"This is the equivalent of us fixing a parking ticket," Republican Del. Donald E. Murphy said, drawing a rebuke from Turner and Bobo, who pointed out that McNeal is not practicing law and has broken no laws. "We either have to change the law, or the election has gone for naught. It's inherently unfair. I feel very uncomfortable," said Republican Del. Robert L. Flanagan.
McNeal declined to comment, said her law partner Patrick O'Guinn. But he said that if the bill fails, there is another option short of resignation -- a legal challenge to the law's constitutionality. "It discriminates between classes of lawyers," he said, adding that he and McNeal would await the vote next week before deciding what to do.
Pub Date: 2/11/99