Elected officials note shore priorities and concerns not aligned with bill outcomes
(May 31, 2019) Although the Maryland General Assembly 2019 legislative session yielded poor to moderate results for many resort residents and business owners, state and local elected officials expressed optimism for stronger outcomes next year, during a legislative wrap-up breakfast on Wednesday.
The Ocean City Economic Development Committee organized the event at the Carousel Resort Hotel on 117th Street, with the legislative review and breakfast sponsored by the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce and the Coastal Association of Realtors
Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-38) provided her first-term take on the 2019 session after opening remarks from Chamber of Commerce Legislative Committee Chairman Brett Wolf.
Hitting a bright note, Carozza quickly steered her comments, with an audible sigh of relief, to the long-awaited funding approval for the third phase of expansions at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center.
“The biggest local win was the Ocean City convention center,” she said.
Carozza said after recognizing the legislation, which failed to gain final sign-offs during the previous session, could be stalled again this year, she stressed to other lawmakers that the facility was a revenue generator rather than a financial drag.
In addition to thanking former Sen. Jim Mathis, who also attended the breakfast, for his efforts to bring more floor space to the convention center, Carozza credited Mayor Rick Meehan for making a big-picture argument to state lawmakers.
“He wrote a detailed letter that went through what the delays would cost the state,” she said. “It really took that team approach to get it through.”
On a less happy note, Carozza expressed gratitude to those who testified against the state minimum wage bill, which was approved.
“That full frontal assault from the shore made a difference,” she said.
While the “Fight for $15,” legislation did gain passage, Carozza said the result was somewhat tempered, with slower phase-in periods for large and small employers, elimination of a proposed automatic cost-of-living increase and preservation of the tip credit.
Looking ahead, Carozza expressed eagerness, and surprise, to be added to the Kirwan Commission as it continues to develop a revised funding formula for Maryland public schools to replace the wealth formula currently in use, which Worcester County educators feel is inequitable.
Carozza quipped that prior to accepting the appointment she delineated her intentions to push for improved disbursement of funds on this side of the bridge.
“I told them that up front and they still put me on it,” she said.
Also offering a first term perspective was Del. Wayne Hartman (R-38C), who reviewed a slew of tax relief bills that failed to clear committee, while also bemoaning the General Assembly’s vote to give local school boards the authority to determine when their schools should begin the year.
That legislation did away with Gov. Larry Hogan’s executive order that required a statewide post-Labor Day start day for schools.
“We were not successful in preserving school after Labor Day,” he said. “The mentality up there is that’s an Ocean City thing.”
Shifting to more recent legislation, Hartman raised concerns over the Clean Energy Jobs bill and future deforestation and loss of farmlands, with plans calling for 10,000 acres to be dedicated for solar panels.
Hartman envisions the required acreage more likely to be found on the Eastern Shore, questioning if other areas of the state would have sufficient parcels to meet the required land needs.
“They’re going to be in our backyard,” he said.
Worcester County Commissioner Joe Mitrecic, in addition to reviewing details of the county’s fiscal 2020 budget, which is set for passage on Tues. June 4, mentioned the process to raise room taxes is getting underway.
Mitrecic also told the audience Worcester County has decided to opt out of recently enacted state regulations mandating automated sprinkler systems in newly constructed single-family homes.
“We’re certainly going to get a lot of pushback,” he said. “We’re going to have to look to the state … to make a change.”
Winding down the remarks from elected officials was Meehan, who said despite a valiant effort to lobby Annapolis lawmakers, the resort was dealt a losing hand on many ends. In some instances, like the minimum wage bill, he said representatives had to wait for extended periods to offer testimony.
“We kind of got our hand slapped when we went up there,” he said. “I think they enjoyed making us wait for five ... hours.”