Steve Schuh admitted it was a bit odd testifying for the first time before Anne Arundel County’s legislative delegation, which he chaired last year.
Now, as the new county executive, he was asking their help on legislation and funding. Last year, as delegation chair, he was hearing requests from County Executive Laura Neuman, the woman he eventually defeated in the Republican primary.
There was also an unusual dynamic with a member of the delegation named Michael Busch, a delegate representing the Annapolis area. He is more commonly known as Mr. Speaker in his role as the Democratic leader of the House of Delegates.
That is technically a part-time position, and Busch also has a day job as the recreation administrator for the county’s Department of Recreation and Parks.
As one of the three most powerful men in state government, along with the governor and Senate president, Busch can be immensely helpful to Anne Arundel County. But as leader of the Democratic Party in the House of Delegates, Busch also has an agenda to pursue, as he did with Schuh.
As a new Republican county executive closely allied with the new Republican governor, Larry Hogan, Schuh’s role has changed from being a critic of the budgets under Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley to a supporter of the budget proposed by Hogan. At the delegation meeting, Schuh called Hogan’s plan the right approach.
“Gov. Hogan is making the tough decisions to put Maryland on a fiscally sustainable path with a balanced, no-new-taxes budget,” Schuh said in a statement. “By slowing the rate of growth in state spending and setting clear priorities, the governor’s budget will lead to a more efficient use of tax dollars, while maintaining a record level of education spending.”
School Funding and the Rain Tax
Busch asked Schuh if he was concerned about the $15 million reduction in funding from the level that county schools had expected. Schuh was not.
“We’d certainly try to find resources to support [schools] along with the Board of Education,” Schuh said.
Anne Arundel County fared better than most counties in the state, getting a $7.5 million increase in state aid, a 1.6% increase. More than half the counties will get less money from the state than they did last year. Overall, state aid went up only 0.4%, with a total increase of only $30 million, the bulk of it for education.
Busch also pressed Schuh on the “rain tax,” the stormwater management charges Anne Arundel and nine other counties were required to impose.
Schuh voted for the rain tax as a delegate and he had one of the best environmental records among Republicans in the House. But Neuman constantly pounded him for his votes supporting the rain tax, and Hogan has pledged to seek repeal of the rain tax, which was one of the least popular measures O’Malley signed.
“Do you have enough flexibility to adjust for any kind of costs [associated with reducing stormwater pollution]?” Busch asked.
“Now that I’m in county government, I would be glad to see any mandate relief that we could get,” Schuh said. “But even if the mandate were removed at the state level, we would still move forward, full-speed ahead, with the same dollar amounts as we are planning to spend now on remediation of our storm pipes.”
Schuh’s own initiatives with the legislature are fairly modest.
He is seeking a bill to allow county police officers to work at bars and restaurants that serve alcohol, including the Maryland Live! Casino. They are currently allowed to have secondary employment as security guards, but not where alcohol is served.
Schuh is also seeking an exemption from liability for first responders, such as police and firefighters, who administer the drug Narcan to prevent death when they encounter heroin overdoses.
Heroin overdoses by all classes of people have grown in the suburban counties. The state health department says there were 41 deaths from heroin overdoses in Anne Arundel County in 2013. Schuh has declared the issue a public health emergency.
Not as Entertaining
County Council Chairman Jerry Walker also spoke to the delegation about the loss of highway user revenues, money from the gasoline tax that the state used to share with the counties before the recession. The money is used for county road projects.
But first, Walker apologized for not being as “entertaining” as former Council Chairman John Grasso, who made last year’s presentation.
Grasso was reelected to his seat in November, and he continues to create controversy with his frequent blunt talk. In January, he made headlines by telling people seeking more affordable housing in Anne Arundel County that they shouldn’t live there if they couldn’t afford it. He called people seeking government assistance “freeloaders.”
The remarks came during a hearing about a bill that would limit where affordable housing could be built in Anne Arundel. The bill passed.
Grasso is a landlord with apartments for mostly low-income residents.