St. Mary's Delegation Leverages Power Despite Differences

By Guy Leonard, County Times

HOLLYWOOD, Md.—When you look at the three of them, they couldn’t be more different. The delegation that represents St. Mary’s County in the state legislature and a portion of Southern Maryland as a whole covers just about every portion of the political spectrum.

Del. John F. Wood (Dist. 29A) is the elder statesman with 23 years in the legislature. A more conservative Democrat, an increasingly rare creature in Annapolis, he’s willing to compromise on issues but will hold firm on others, like opposing increases in taxes.

Del. John L. Bohanan (Dist.29B) is a more liberal Democrat who believes that sometimes higher taxes are necessary to cover the increasing costs of services that government must deal with.

And Del. Anthony O’Donnell (Dist.29C) is a conservative Republican who is often at odds with the Gov. Martin O’ Malley’s (D) administration, especially on fiscal issues.

But the one thing that all three said they agreed upon was that they all had to come together when it came to bringing home the funding and resources needed in St. Mary’s and Southern Maryland.

“If it involves the region there are no party lines,” Bohanan told The County Times. “We’re one of the fastest growing regions in the state and it’s crucial to make sure we get the kind of investments we need for infrastructure to keep up with growth.”

Aside from bringing home funding for education, school construction and roads, Bohanan said, the county delegation also jealously looks out for the Patuxent River Naval Air Station and the Webster Field annex as key to the local economy.

As far as the region goes, Bohanan said they also look after the interests of the facility at Indian Head.

O’Donnell said that to get what St. Mary’s County wants, especially when economic times are getting tougher and much larger delegations from Prince George’s and Montgomery counties can dominate, the smaller group has to use its power wisely.

“We’re well respected,” O’Donnell said, pointing to his own position as House Minority Leader as well as Wood’s and Bohanan’s key positions on the Appropriations Committee in Annapolis.

As the leader of 36 house members, O’Donnell said, “there comes a certain amount of respect” and of his colleague Wood he said: “When he talks people listen.”

But O’Donnell said that on state wide issues, like last year’s hike of the sales tax to try and eliminate more than $1 billion in budget shortfalls, the delegation had to split.

Bohanan voted to increase the taxes, and took subsequent heat for it from the business community, while Wood and Bohanan voted against it.

“We’re taxed out. “We need to reign in the rate of growth of government spending.”—Del. O’Donnell
“We’re taxed out,” the Calvert County Republican said. “We need to reign in the rate of growth of government spending.”

Wood said that it was a common misconception that businesses had the money to pay more in taxes.

“I look at it this way, businesses have been hit so much… once you pay your bills there’s just a tiny piece left,” Wood said. “What happens in most cases is that cost is passed on [to the consumer].

“It’s almost like a double taxation.”

Taxes aren’t the only thing the county delegation has disagreed on.

When a state funded transportation study was released last year detailing the Thomas Johnson Bridge, Waldorf bypass and an upgrade to Route 301 as top transit priorities, both Wood and O’Donnell said it was a waste of money to the tune of $200,000.

The priorities had long been known by officials and the study more like it was designed to benefit the contractors and officials who completed and approved it, Wood had said.

Bohanan disagreed, saying that the study “further refines and sharpens the argument of our need for resources.”

Bohanan said that with projects like the Purple Line extension for Metro service on the horizon as well as the Inter County Connector from Prince George’s to Montgomery counties, funding could get very short for priority projects here.

Wood said that aside from fighting for the county’s portion of the funding pie in Annapolis the delegation must still deal with partisan rivalries between the two parties, which, he said, have grown since he first got to the legislature in 1987.

“Back then it didn’t make a difference if you were a Democrat or a Republican,” Wood said. “The whole legislature was more conservative than it is today.”

Wood said that delegates who he considered as moderates were in short supply.

“The ones that are in the middle of the road you can’t count on both hands,” Wood said. “There’s no sitting down and working out a compromise anymore.

“That’s not good for the people or the state.”

But the three delegates try to keep partisanship to a minimum when it comes to local issues, Wood said.

Cooperation “has to be the watchword,” he said.

Looking ahead to this year’s session, where money will be on everyone’s mind, O’Donnell said that he would oppose a possible move by the state to push responsibility for teacher pensions onto local jurisdictions.

It’s a move that would be too costly for counties, O’Donnell said.

“That will hurt local county commissioners,” O’Donnell said. “We have to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

And O’Donnell is equally fearful that the state will try to centralize control over local land use authority, as are county elected officials here.

“The one-size-fits-all approach is a bad idea and it jeopardizes private property rights,” O’Donnell said.

Bohanan said that he favors solving the teacher pension issue through more budget cuts and adjustments without further raising taxes.

Wood said that the budget will be the big issue this year in Annapolis as the state continues to reel under a faltering national economy.

“The biggest thing looking us in the face right now is a $400 million deficit”—Del. Wood
“The biggest thing looking us in the face right now is a $400 million deficit,” Wood said, adding that next year’s budget could point to a near $2 billion deficit.

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