Key Senate, House committee chairs discuss key issues during 2008 General Assembly session

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Despite tax increases and savings enacted by the November special session, there remains a “desperate need” for revenue sources, Lisa A. Gladden, senate majority whip and vice chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, told GBC members at the GBC’s Legislative Forum on January 28.

While she realizes that taxes are “challenging” to business people, the state’s government is overwhelmed with “present needs” that lawmakers must deal with, Gladden said.

Senator Ulysses Currie, chair of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, called Governor Martin O’Malley’s $31.5 billion budget a “good” budget. “It’s a subdued budget. It’s a quiet budget,” Currie said.

Regarding repeal of the computer tax, which the GBC strongly supports, Currie said that the Senate will likely not succumb to pressure for the tax’s repeal. “We’re going to hold, because we’d have to cut $200 million,” Currie said, referring to the estimated revenue to the state the tax is estimate to generate. He suggested that such cuts would have to come from health and education programs.

Currie praised Governor O’Malley, who he said demonstrated leadership and courage in addressing the state’s projected $1.7 billion deficit. “This governor stepped up. He didn’t have to,” said Currie. “His (poll) numbers are down, but he stepped up and we need to support him.”

Meanwhile, Delegate Anthony J. O’Donnell, House minority leader, said that the State can’t keep growing its bottom line at its current rate. The state budget has grown 100 percent in the last 10 years, said O’Donnell. The government’s growth exceeds the rate at which its citizens’ income is increasing. “It was the wrong time to raise taxes … and yet that’s what we did,” he said.

Delegate Peter A. Hammen, chair, House Health and Government Operations Committee, noted a “gaping hole in the safety net of health care.” The government has done well with children’s health care, but has done an awful job in covering adult health care, he said.

There are more than 800,000 adults in Maryland without health insurance and each resident is paying $344 a year for the uninsured, said Hammen. “This makes insurance expensive for everyone…so we need to bring down the cost of the uninsured.”

The strategy for addressing the state’s health care problem starts with expanding Medicaid eligibility, said Hammen, whose committee handles health care legislation. During the special session the General Assembly raised Medicaid eligibility to 400 percent of the poverty level, which will leverage state funds with matching federal funds, he said.

Look for long-term care to be a legislative focus of the future. Hammen said he hopes to have a long-term care reform proposal ready by the 2009 session.

GBC 2008 legislative priorities and a recap on last year’s special session.

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