Pictured: Delegate Wendell Beitzel, Senator George Edwards, District Administrator Kim McMillan
Last night, area residents came out to hear from Senator George Edwards and Delegate Wendell Beitzel who laid out plans for the 2018 General Assembly. They shared a wish list that came from the Garrett County Commissioner whom they met with on Monday at their regularly scheduled public meeting.
Attendees took the opportunity to make some requests for possible legislation in 2018, thank the delegation for work they had done in 2017, and offer suggestions for Garrett County.
Beitzel opened the meeting expressing concerns over the increasing problem of drug addiction. He's taken a keen interest in the use of Ibogaine that is being considered a safe treatment to assist addicts who are in a recovery program. Because Ibogaine is a schedule-one substance, Beitzel implied passing legislation for its use in Maryland will be difficult.
Edwards shared that he was continuing to support a tax credit bill scenario for rural Maryland that targets manufacturing jobs. He would like to expand the bill to include other types of businesses not contained in last year's legislation.
Governor Larry Hogan is expected to come out with an announcement in the coming days to modify the bill and Edwards described the proposed amendment as beneficial to Garrett County. "It [the amendment] doesn't quite go the distance I would like, so I may be looking at putting in my own bill to make it even a little broader," said Edwards. He expressed a need for new business as well as incentives to grow existing ones. "The main thrust of it is to get the businesses here, or to keep businesses here and get them to expand here."
Question was raised by Beitzel over so much state funding going toward mass transit systems in metro areas to the east. Of the entire Transportation Trust Fund, 50% goes toward mass transit systems in the state according to Beitzel. An expansion of the public transportation system includes upgrades to the Red Line and a new Purple Line that adds 16 miles of light rail transit connecting Montgomery and Prince Georges Counties. It is estimated to cost and impressive $2.5 billion. The Federal government is expected to chip in $900 million, local jurisdictions benefiting from the new line are contributing roughly $110 million, and the balance is coming from the state at between $600 and 700 million.
Once built, Beitzel explained operational costs would be about $200 million annually. Monies collected by transit users is estimated to be $25 million, leaving $175 million to operate the transit line each year. The shortfall is presumed to come from the Highway User Fund which would equal all funding available to rest of Maryland's jurisdictions. "There seems to be some basic unfairness with this issue," Beitzel expressed.
Garrett County used to bank roughly $5 million from the Highway User Revenue Fund according to Edwards. The fund was slashed by 90% in 2009 and the state has been sluggish to restore it. Many municipalities used to rely on funding to maintain their local roads. "Getting that back would be a big boost to the County," said Edwards.
Attendees included Nicole Christian, Garrett County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO. Christian presented the representatives with the Chamber's laundry list of priorities for the General Assembly.
The number-one priority Christian shared was to preserve Governor Hogan's veto on Mandated Paid Leave. The Chamber shares concern with organizations and businesses across the state, the Garrett County Board of Education, and Garrett Regional Medical Center which she named as impacted examples. "This issue will effect so many of our businesses here in Garrett County," said Christian. "It truly is a workforce issue too because of the way [the bill] was written. It would apply to anyone who's working a minimum of 12 hours a week and it would apply to seasonal and part-time employees."
Businesses with 15 or more employees are going to be impacted according to Christian. She explained that many businesses didn't realize early on that the influx of part-time and seasonal workers would also qualify for paid leave. "Whatever you can do to preserve this veto would be appreciated," expressed Christian.
Other issues raised by attendees included relaxing the motorcycle helmet laws, consumer protection for insurance claim payment methods, improved agricultural practices, enhancing commercial trucking routes, and reducing dependency on subsidies for area residents.