|GBC CEO Don Fry opens the legislative forum|
Seriously, urgency didn't exactly emanate from any of the panelists, even though this is an election year. Except for Bill Ferguson, who repeatedly pointed out that, while the entire nation sits at the top of an economic cycle, not only Baltimore but all of Maryland was sliding backwards. He used transportation and education as examples for the slide. Ferguson wasn't mincing words or glossing over anything. He began his prepared remarks with:
"I represent the 46th District. I have the Second highest median and lowest median income in my district separated by a bridge. That is the story of Baltimore."
It was Ferguson who mentioned that the Governor had stolen the Red Line from Baltimore and is now also stealing State Center, both multi billion economic development opportunities. He didn't offer any remedy, though. Generally the representatives sitting on the podium were sanguine, even the often fiery Maggie Mackintosh seemed not too excited about the legislative agenda ahead.
"The Budget looks much like last year. Three areas of focus: health care, education, public safety.
Macintosh coolly observed. She then caught the attention of the room when she singled out St. Louis and Baltimore as the two cities in the US with the highest crime rate and being the only ones not having a county of which they are part. (In reality there are 41 "independent cities in the US but 38 are in Virginia which has it constitutionally set up that way, outside St Louis and Baltimore there is only Carson City in Nevada). But this curious fact certainly isn't on any legislative agenda.
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By setting up the perfect balance between Republicans and Democrats on the dais, the organizers had set up for a kumbayah, and they got it, starting with Keiffer Mitchell who works for the Governor and marveled that neither Macintosh nor Ferguson had yet thrown him out of office when he showed up and ending with Senator Jennings, who made several pretty good attempts of stand-up comedy but the ran out of steam on substance. He noted that in Annapolis one can work "across the aisle" and finally wondered "How to get young people with a record a job? How to get a hold of the 11 year olds before they get in the wrong hands?" without offering any answers to these momentous questions. Governor, Comptroller and legislators agree on the goal of holding Maryland taxpayers harmless and not allowing that they have to foot the bill for the federal tax overhaul. Mitchell rattled down a list of legislation the Governor pushes including a crime initiative with a partnership with US Marshall and 200 probation officers, a “truth in sentencing” effort targeting repeat violent offenders and revisiting the paid sick leave act in which the legislators overrode his veto. There is also an extension of a jobs initiative, and a small business tax relief initiative.
4000 bills have been introduced in Annapolis this year, about a quarter has been cross-read (between House and Senate) so far. Lobbyists and those who like to hang out in Annapolis during the legislative session are impressed. The rest of us will shrug our shoulders and move on to their daily routines like most who attended the GBC breakfast, half amused and half bewildered by the rituals of law making. If there weren't the nagging little nugget that Senator Ferguson had put into everybody's mind: State and City are slipping in the middle of a boom.
How bad will it be when that boom will come to an end?
Klaus Philipsen, FAIA