Legislators discuss upsoming session at NPPC meeting
Wednesday, 16 January 2013 13:12

Taxes, future of mill site among issues on agenda

by John G. Bailey

    Sixth District state delegates John Olszewski Jr. and Joseph “Sonny” Minnick discussed their views on local and state-wide issues with the public at the January 3 meeting of the North Point Peninsula Council.
    Hosannah House, the Catholic Charities transitional housing project originally slated for elderly men, has generated a lot of heated debate among Edgemere residents. During public meetings on the issue, opponents have outnumbered supporters by a large majority. [See the Oct. 17 issue of The Eagle].

[Information received just before press time indicates that Catholic Charites has shifted its focus to a facility geared toward supportive housing for women.]
    Olszewski said he opposed the Hosannah House proposal and favors “a more comprehensive solution,” to the problem of homelessness, supporting the Diamond Point Shopping Center site as a treatment, counseling and job training facility for area residents. [See article on page 14.]
    Baltimore County’s determination that renovating the property for this purpose would be too expensive has put the idea on hold.
    While Minnick did not offer an opinion on Hossanah House, he did state his opposition to a bill expected in this year’s General Assembly session that is designed to protect Section 8 renters by outlawing discrimination against renters based on sources of income.
    [A public zoning hearing on the variances that Catholic Charities is requesting for Hosannah House is set for Thursday, Jan. 31, at 10 a.m. in the Jefferson Building in Towson. The public is invited to attend and can submit their opinions on the project prior to the meeting by fax at 410-887-5708 or by mail to Baltimore County Zoning Review Office, 111 W. Chesapeake Ave., Towson, MD 21204.]
    Regarding the end of steel manufacturing at Sparrows Point, Olszew-ski reminded NPPC about the $26,000 of Trade Transitional Assistance available to laid-off RG Group steelworkers.
    Concerns about the pending demolition of the former steel manufacturing complex were raised by council members. Carolyn Mroz worried about the dispersal of asbestos and other toxins in the buildings set to be torn down. In response, NPPC vice president Fran Taylor reported that he had heard that the Maryland Department of the Environment would be overseeing the deconstruction of the property. Mroz was not mollified.
    With scrap metal thefts already on the rise, NPPC president Harry Wujek predicted that demolition of the complex will attract illegal scavengers. A uniformed Baltimore County Police officer who regulary attends NPPC meetings informed the group that county police would not be patrolling the site. Responsibilty for policing the privately-owned property belongs to the owners.
    In a related matter, Wujek, Taylor and other council members have frequently voiced frustration at the limited make-up of the Sparrows Point Partnership. Established to foment redevelopment in southeastern Baltimore County, SSP is staffed entirely by business leaders, with no representation from the communities that could be affected adversely by development. Olszew-ski informed the meeting that he has written a letter to Dan Gunderson, the SPP chairperson, requesting broader participation.
    Russ Donnelly, NPPC environmental representative, summarized the New Vision redevelopment plans for the Sparrows Point site, which were outlined in detail during a public meeting on Dec. 6 at the North Point-Edgemere Volunteer Fire Company hall. [The plan was detailed in the Dec 13 edition of The Eagle.]
    Donnelly posited the plan’s  mixture of transportation, tourism, recreation and ‘no smoke-no output’ high-tech businesses as an alternative to what he fears will be the SPP proposal for the property, which is currenty zoned for heavy industry.
    Minnick promoted his plan for a monument to steelworkers on the site, which would recognize their contributions to  American growth, prosperity and power.
    The delegates surveyed forthcoming issues in the 2013 General Assembly session.
    Olszewski would support offshore wind energy legislation if it includes a limit on the surcharge levied on all Maryland residents for the start-up revenue for the industry, and a credit to customers after wind-generated energy becomes profitable. He also noted a $150,000 feasibility study that outlined many ways the Sparrows Point area would benefit from offshore wind industry at the former steel complex. But he was noncommittal on support for offshore wind energy pending the details of this year’s version of a bill that failed last year.
    This contrasts with Minnick’s opposition to any offshore wind energy bill. According to him, while all state residents would have to pay for this source of energy, it would only benefit part of the state. He also claimed that many of the jobs touted by proponents will go to out-of-state workers.
    Olszewski  predicted that no major cuts in services or income tax increases will be neccesary to balance this year’s budget. “Believe it or not, it looks like Maryland is in pretty good shape fiscally this year,” he said, “as long federal sequestration is avoided.”
    He opposes any attempt to increase sales tax on cigarettes again. “Cigarette sales and revenues have decreased with each tax increase, while sales in neighboring states have increased.”
    The junior delegate said he also opposes a sales tax increase on gasoline. While acknowledging that the rate hasn’t changed in years [the present rate was set in 1992], he noted the higher efficiency of newer cars generates less  revenue than it did in earlier years. He also said a higher rate would disproportionately affect his 6th District constituents, who tend to favor trucks and SUVs.
    Minnick discussed “slush funds,” the back-channel means for balancing the state budget. Revenue from the gasoline sales tax goes into a transportation trust fund, which is nominally for the maintenance of existing transportation infrastructure and new projects. But as Minnick pointed out, in practice it is customary for governors to raid the fund to cover budget shortfalls in other areas.
    The same is true with the education trust fund, explained Minnick, which is  funded from gambling revenue. The language of Amendment 7, which expanded gambling in Maryland, allows for funds to be used for other purposes. What is left after the annual budget battle in Annapolis goes to education. [Minnick supported both the slots amendment in 2008 and Amendment 7 last year.]
    In response to the epidemic of massacres carried out by people armed with assault weapons, Olszewski favors a middle-gound approach.  “I think we can strike a balance between protecting the public, while also respecting the constitutional rights of citizens to keep and bear arms.”
    Minnick supports restrictions on ammunition and psychological tests for propospective gun purchasers.
    Gov. Martin O’Malley will be pushing a bill to repeal the death penalty in Maryland. It is Olszew-ski’s opinion that the safeguards put in place thus far to prevent injudicious use of the ultimate sanction are adequate, and he doesn’t oppose the death penalty in principle.
    Minnick said simply, “I support the death penalty.”