Little joy for Baltimore Co. in 2008 legislative session

The Baltimore Sun

Some years, legislation and projects backed by Baltimore County lawmakers fare especially well in the General Assembly.

This year wasn't one of them.

State budget woes resulted in less money for schools, roads and other projects and programs. But County Executive James T. Smith Jr. still found legislative victories to highlight at yesterday's annual luncheon with state lawmakers at Oregon Ridge Park.

The county's delegation in Annapolis "passed legislation that protects our environment, strengthens public safety and supports the renaissance of county communities, making certain that none of these accomplishments compromised the progress made in addressing Maryland's structural deficit reconciliation," Smith said.

The repeal of the computer services tax was especially important to the county, Smith said. But to make up for it, cuts had to be made.

"The economy has really affected our ability to do good," said Del. Jon Cardin, a Democrat.

Causes that lost funding included the Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund and the new Irvine Nature Center in Owings Mills, Cardin said.

Elected officials sought $7.25 million in bond bill funding for projects in Baltimore County. Only a fraction -- $2.55 million -- was approved.

However, other county programs and projects were included in the state budget or as other bond-funded initiatives, such as $12.8 million for a new library at the Community College of Baltimore County in Catonsville and $750,000 for Pleasure Island Shore Stabilization.

Baltimore County will receive at least $30 million for school renovations and construction, and possibly more, according to Smith. Road projects such as the Dolfield Boulevard Interchange on I-795 also survived the cuts.

Smith talked about the passage of several county legislative priorities, including a measure that allows public safety officials to release the photographs of juveniles who escape from detention centers and another that helps finance roads, water and sewerage in designated "BRAC zones," which are near the military bases to be expanded.

Smith said that Democratic Del. John Olszewski Jr. was particularly helpful in making sure that local jurisdictions can, but aren't required to, negotiate payments in lieu of taxes from private developers building offices, stores and hotels on federal land.

The county executive and other lawmakers vowed to work next year on the measures that failed to win approval, including a bill sponsored by Democratic Sen. Delores E. Kelley that would allow law enforcement agencies to seize the illegal profits of identity theft.

Funding scorecard

A sampling of special projects that state lawmakers from Baltimore County wanted to be funded, and what they got:

Catonsville YMCA, sought $1 million, received $325,000.

Eastern Boulevard beautification, sought $1 million, received none.

Family Life Intergenerational Center, sought and received $250,000.

Heritage Trail and St. Helena Park, sought $1 million, received $175,000.

Baltimore County Center for Maryland Agriculture, sought $1.5 million, received $1 million.

Weinberg Village Senior Apartment, sought $1 million, received $250,000.

Source: 2008 Bond Bill Funding, Maryland Legislative Information Services

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