Washington County delegates head to Annapolis to have their voices heard

January 22 – With the Maryland state legislature in session, delegates from Washington County are headed to the capital to talk about policies and funding today. 

Washington County wants to be remembered in Annapolis when it comes to business and growth and potential. 

There will be almost 80 people from Washington County in the state house. 

Jim Kercheval, executive director of the Greater Hagerstown Committee, said, “Our delegation does what it can, but it’s the people outside our jurisdiction that we really have to impact because our delegation, I mean, they’re going go down and keep the message as well and try to talk about the things we need, but they need a little bit of extra support sometimes and I think us coming down in a in a big group helps them out.”

There is a lobbyist for Washington County. 

Kercheval said, “He works on our issues. We have about eight issues this year that he’ll be working through the system. But then a lot of times our different municipalities and county government may have their own lobbyists that address some of their very specific things. A good lobbyist is really an educator and a tracker. So he’s trying to watch what’s happening. He’s trying to listen to what’s going on behind the scenes. A lot of decisions are made over a cup of coffee or a little back meeting room when you’re out of work and a couple of delegates get together and decide what they want to try to push through and not push through. You want to try to be in those conversations and I know our delegation tries to get active in some of those events outside of the normal workday, but also our lobbyists try to keep an ear to the ground and try to keep us track of what’s going on.”

Michele Jansen of NewsTalk 103.7FM pointed out, “That makes sense because you represent a lot of people’s interest within the district. So it makes sense that you would have an ear to what’s going on with that and try to have a little input in these decisions.”

Kercheval said, “A lot of times legislators from outside of our community don’t really understand the impact of what they do. So our lobbyist’s job as well as our delegation is to try to go in there and explain and say this is how that impacts us. This is what it’s going to do positively or what it’s going to do negatively and try to get that message out so they have a little better understanding of what decisions they’re making.”

Jansen said, “I think especially the unintended negative consequences are very, very important to bring to their attention.”

Kercheval said, “Here’s a good example. I mean, one thing this year HCC wanted to get full funding of the Cade formula. The Cade formula is how they get their money based on enrollment. The Cade formula this year was 29.5% of whatever University Maryland gets, that’s what all the community colleges get. They take that lump sum and divide it up by enrollment. We’ve always gotten 29.5 under the governor’s new budget. He cut the Cade formula number to 26.5, not just for this year, but that’s a permanent cut. So what that’s going to do is really kick a lot of our community colleges, make their budgets very difficult. So when you see these headlines, I get frustrated when you see a headline that says the new budget helps education and it helps this. It’s like you didn’t really give the full picture. It’s helping K through 12 education, but it’s hurting the community college education numbers. Not just that, but under the Maryland Blueprint, the Community College’s biggest tuition payer is Washington County Public Schools because now we have all these kids that are coming in, dual enrolled, who are getting high school credits as well as community college credits, which is a great thing. It helps them get a college degree at a lot less money and they can take some of those during high school. But if Dr. Klauber has to raise tuition up to cover that loss of that 3%, which right now, there’s no really other option of what he’s going to have to do, then Washington County Public Schools is going to be the biggest tuition payer so now you’re really impacting Washington County Public Schools budget too. So that’s one of those types of things that a lobbyist tries to explain to legislators as they’re going through to the administration. That’s one of the areas we’re going to try to go after on top of the other big ones, like I-81, money for the field house, stuff like that.”

Sometimes it’s important to work with other counties, too. 

Kercheval explained, “What we try to do is when we could get an issue and bring in one of the power counties, you know, Baltimore, PG, Anne Arundel, Montgomery, if they kind of have the same issue, we try to pile up with them because they have a little more clout and more votes in Annapolis, so if there’s any time we can bring them on board, we will. Right now we just over the weekend actually aircraft parts got exempted from sales tax about three years ago through one of our lobby coalition efforts. One of the concessions we had to make when that bill got passed was that the bill would sunset after four years, five years. So that bill is going to go away next year, which means the sales tax on aircraft parts is going to come back. One of the reasons we fought that is we were the only state in the Northeast region that had it. So Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, none of those states charge sales tax on aircraft parts. So when we’re trying to build businesses at our local airport and the rural smaller airports, they depend on that business sector to really drive income, we were at a competitive disadvantage because you go get your plane tuned up, $3000, $4000, $5,000, not $300, $400 or $500. So that 6% sales tax adds up to $200 or $300 where someone on the airplane could just fly an extra five minutes, stop in Pennsylvania, stop in Virginia, stop in West Virginia, and let those companies on those air strips do their work. Now we’re pairing up together to try to get the sunset clause extended or made permanent.”

Washington County Day in Annapolis will be tomorrow. 

Paul Frey, president of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce said, “We were there last week to set the stage for our reception, our Washington County day in Annapolis reception tomorrow at 4:30. We went last week to hand out some swag and get excited about going to come out and see Washington County here in Annapolis.”

It’s important to have voices be heard. 

Frey said, “It’s about relationships. It’s about them knowing what we’re doing with our portion of the tax money that comes back to communities. We do very well with it. We just want to show them how we’re doing and show our appreciation and keep moving forward.”

What have been the successes? 

Frey said, “We have brought over $300 million dollars to Washington County, thanks to the work of the community coalition, eight or nine partners here in the community. We’re in our 19th year, the biggest win we’re building as we speak and that’s the downtown stadium. That was key for relationships, especially with our delegation members, in particular Senator Paul Corderman. Really, it was about relationships. We had folks waving the old Sun’s foam finger on Zoom calls saying, ‘Go Hagerstown Suns.’ So we had folks who maybe didn’t know about us, but knew about the relationship and working hard, so they supported us. I think one of the biggest ones recently is the $80 million to build the stadium from lottery money. That was as a result of this coalition working really hard over the last 19 years.”

Could anything happen with the money pulled from Interstate 81? 

Frey said, “That’s one of our initiatives again this year is get the money put back in for I-81. About $90 million was federal money, but that was removed. So we’re working hard on that. We’re cautiously optimistic, again that’s part of the coalition, that’s part of our work in Annapolis, that’s part of being at the table and having that conversation. It’s just not for Washington County, this I-81. We have a lot of commerce that comes from Baltimore through here and goes all the way up to Canada and down to Tennessee. So again, it’s not just for Washington County, it really does help the state.”