Lobbyists' absence affects fundraiser

The Baltimore Sun

Having a long-planned political fundraiser during the current special session of the General Assembly may be legal, according to William G. Somerville, ethics counsel to the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics, but one Howard legislator said it is not great for his bottom line.

"People I counted [on] to have here are down in Annapolis," Republican Del. Warren E. Miller told a crowd of about 40 people who paid $75 each to attend the 7:30 a.m. breakfast Thursday at a Marriottsville restaurant.

Miller said that up to 15 lobbyists who would have attended could not be there, and some real estate brokers went to an Annapolis rally against extending the sales tax to their management services.

Legislators are prohibited for ethical reasons from holding fundraisers during the regular 90-day General Assembly session, but they can hold long-scheduled events during the special session, Somerville said in an Oct. 3 letter to all members.

For those who did make it, however, Miller stood in front of a big red "Stop Democrat Tax Increases" sign and called Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley's plan to raise the state sales tax to 6 percent from 5 percent "a horrible thing" that will send shoppers to Delaware and to the Internet to avoid the increase.

Miller and Republican Del. Gail H. Bates, who attended the event, have teamed to run for office, but Bates said they can collect more in donations by having separate fundraising events.

She sent out a letter that has produced a good return - without the trouble and expense that a breakfast like Miller's involved.

Jim McLaughlin, a New York-based Republican pollster advising Miller, told the group that although nationally the Republican Party has "lost our way," the party can rebuild with issues such as O'Malley's tax increases and with local candidates like Miller.

"Problems are solved at the grass-roots level, and we're a grass-roots party," McLaughlin said.

Media polls might indicate that "people don't care about taxes," he added, but "we're having a tax war in New Jersey. It's a great political issue."

However, the key is not to advocate lower taxes as an end in themselves, McLaughlin said, but to tie that idea to an improved economy, more jobs and prosperity.

Miller had a cheerful view of what O'Malley's proposed tax increases would mean.

"I couldn't ask for a better Christmas present from the Democrats," he said. "In 2010, there will be a reckoning."

Land-use resolution

Citizen complaints - and resulting political fallout - over land-use disputes have a long, painful history in Howard, but two County Council members hope a resolution they plan to introduce tomorrow night will help.

Councilwomen Jen Terrasa and Mary Kay Sigaty, both Democrats, want to create a citizens task force to find ways to make people feel more comfortable with how these often contentious land-use issues are decided.

"One of the things Mary Kay and I have heard the most about since we've been on the council is frustration with the planning process," Terassa said.

For example, at community information meetings, where developers are required to tell residents what they are planning before submitting their plans to the county, residents often do not know what's going on or what comes next.

"We thought a more interactive process, a roundtable discussion" might be better than the current system of formal hearings, testimony and decisions by various agencies and boards, Terrasa said.

"Doing things in little bits and pieces [in response to individual complaints] is worse than what we currently have," Sigaty said. A committee can take "a comprehensive approach."

Angela Beltram, a former council member who led a petition drive against a series of 2004 rezoning decisions countywide, applauded the move.

"I think it's a great idea," she said. "There are too many complaints out there."


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