The 2013 General Assembly began its three-month session this week, with local lawmakers preparing to play defense. On issues from the gas tax to septic tanks to gun control, Washington County’s delegation says it wants to block what other parts of the state see as progress.
We largely agree with these positions, and we count on lawmakers to hold the line in areas that would detrimentally affect people in rural counties.
We join them in opposing a hike in the state gasoline tax on two grounds. One, the economic recovery is still fragile, and since we in the hinterlands travel greater distances than our more urban brethren, a tax hike on gas is disproportionately detrimental to our citizens’ financial health.
Second, we seem to see very little return on our gas-tax dollar. For example, as states north and south improve Interstate 81 to three lanes, we have seen very little action out of Maryland on that front. This very likely will lead to an embarrassing bottleneck on the highway between Pennsylvania and West Virginia — state lawmakers should have to answer for how this has been allowed to happen.
The area also needs a bridge built over Antietam Creek on Hagerstown’s northeast end that would open up a Robinwood technology park, and the Funkstown bypass must be funded sooner rather than later.
We also agree with our lawmakers when they say they need to defend the county against overly strict septic-tank regulations. We do not dispute that every effort should be made to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay. But our concern is that the marginal improvements in relatively minor pollution sources here will only serve to destroy local land values and rural lifestyles while being of little real help to the bay.
On the issue of guns, we agree with local lawmakers who warn against knee-jerk reactions and political grandstanding on the part of those wishing to see stricter gun regulations. But we would note that this is a two-way street. We would wait to see what gun-related measures might be forthcoming before taking a stand, and we would urge lawmakers to do the same. Disturbing events of the past year and the unconscionable loss of human life demand at least a conversation on the issue of how to keep guns out of the hands of sick individuals.
As for education, lawmakers have vowed to protect funding for the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown campus, and to seek a disparity grant to school systems in low-income counties. We agree. While we believe the better solution would be for our local lawmakers to try to bring some better-paying jobs to Washington County, the disparity grant is needed now.
But with all of the defense that might be necessary, we believe the delegation should play offense as well — on roads, schools and downtown Hagerstown. Some lawmakers who championed jobs during the campaign have since turned their attention to flights of political fancy unrelated to the real needs of the people of Washington County. We would urge them to keep their original promises and return to the employment platform upon which they were elected.
In all, however, we are heartened by what we hear out of the delegation going in to the session. We hope we are equally heartened by the results when all is said and done this spring.