By Rande Davis
State Senator Brian Feldman and Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo provided the annual update on state matters at the June 2 town meeting. Feldman noted that the legislature was very busy handling a thousand bills in the Senate and another fifteen hundred in the House of Delegates.
He began on a positive footing stating that the state is the wealthiest in the nation, continues to enjoy a triple-A bond rating, and has unemployment levels at five percent. He credits the educational level of the citizens for much of the state’s success. He also mentioned that, by law, the state must balance the budget each year through sales tax and personal income tax.
Senator Feldman further emphasized the need for tax reform so the state could become more competitive, especially with Northern Virginia. He was encouraged by reform to the state estate tax but remarked that its full benefit will take five years to be realized.
Last year, he sponsored legislation for the state to complete a thorough review of the state’s tax structure, something that has not been done 1987. While the legislation did not pass his bill, there is a private sector group being put together that may be able to do a similar review.
He touted Delegate Kathleen Dumais’s successful legislation to expand penalties for child abusers who expose violence to children. Additionally, he applauded the passing of a bill allowing farmers to use up to five percent of their land for renewable energy that will help sustain their farms by providing them with additional income.
Delegate Fraser-Hidalgo, in speaking about the annual 32,000 motor vehicle accidents caused by hitting deer, spoke about a bill that will facilitate bow hunting to reduce deer population. The bill would lower the minimum safety zone for deer hunting in Montgomery County from 150 yards to 100 yards from dwellings or other occupied buildings. Commissioner Chuck Stump inquired about ways the state delegation could assist to better use the local golf course to help the local economy. Senator Feldman commented that the state has begun looking into passing a bill to make it easier to process wine, one of the commercial uses of the property near the golf course.
Commissioner Klobukowski inquired about fracking in the state, warning that to restrict it could also impact water availability as the fracking process is also used to expand well water flow. He also took the time to educate the state representatives on the continued need to keep the high school renovation on track for 2021.
Senator Feldman said that the school population increases by about two thousand students per year, the equivalent of having to build one new school per year.
Commissioners Halbrook and Dickerson voiced concern over state policy and the negative consequences on seniors, especially in allowing the state to tax pension income and the deleterious impact that pension tax has on retired senior citizens. Frazier-Hidalgo, while not offering any ideas for a solution, did confirm he has been hearing this concern from many citizens and believes that the increased dialogue on the issue is the first step to getting reform.
Commissioner Brown expressed his disgust with the loss of $150 million dollars on a failed affordable care act computer system and the additional cost of having to run a new system similar to the one used in Connecticut. He wanted to know why no one has been held accountable.
A discussion of the increase in Maryland residents leaving the state turned into a more extensive discussion on the issue, especially as it concerns retirees. Feldman pointed out that since the state is not losing population, others are coming in to replace them. Feldman questioned the validity of a poll that shows forty-seven percent of Marylanders would leave the state if they could, as he does not know the parameters of the poll used.