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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Shortfall Generates Surplus of Md. Bills; At Special Session, Ideas Vary Widely

(Posted 31 Oct 2007)
Shortfall Generates Surplus of Md. Bills; At Special Session, Ideas Vary Widely.
Post, 31 Oct 2007 (Wiggins & Rucker).
Even though Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley called a special session of the legislature to address his plan to close a potential $1.7 billion budget shortfall, lawmakers came to Annapolis this week with more than 50 bills of their own -- some offering alternatives to the governor's proposal but others focusing on completely different issues.

A lawmaker from Prince George's has even revived an effort to save the financially troubled Prince George's Hospital Center.

In one revenue-raising proposal, Sen. Jennie M. Forehand (D-Montgomery) has proposed a bill that would increase the tax on alcoholic beverages from $1.50 to $3.50 a gallon for distilled spirits, from 40 cents to $1 a gallon for wine and from 9 to 25 cents a gallon for beer. [Note: HB 32, co-sponsored by Delegates Holmes (D-23B), Proctor (D-27A), and Niemann (D-47).]
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A bill [HB 38] sponsored by Del. Doyle L. Niemann (D-Prince George's) falls into that category. It proposes a solution to the troubles of Dimensions Healthcare System, which operates Prince George's Hospital Center in Cheverly, Laurel Regional Hospital, Bowie Health Center and two nursing homes.

The measure would allow the governor to set up an authority to devise a long-term plan for the hospital system. The authority would be charged with negotiating with management companies interested in taking over the system. It also would acquire the system's property and assume its bond debt and pension liability.

Niemann floated a similar idea during this year's regular session, but the measure failed because the county did not support it. He has made adjustments to the bill, including eliminating a county tax to help fund the hospital system. Niemann's bill has been assigned to the rules committee.

Del. Barbara A. Frush (D-Prince George's) has introduced legislation [HB 37] to eliminate state funding for the intercounty connector highway that would link Montgomery and Prince George's counties. She called the road project "a big mistake." [Note: Co-sponsored by Delegates Barnes (D-21), Hubbard (D-23A), Ivey (D-47), Niemann (D-47), Pena-Melnyk (D-21), Ramirez (D-47), Ross (D-22), and Vaughn (D-24).]

"It's a bad way to spend money, especially at a time when our money is scarce," she said. But her bill has also been referred to the rules committee and is unlikely to be heard.

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