The Maryland Public Policy Institute
Wicomico County is facing a pretty bleak budget. While you may be tempted to blame the County Council or County Executive Rick Pollitt for the budget mess, save your ire for the person who really deserves it: Delegate Norman Conway. His actions in Annapolis during this year's legislative session are largely responsible for the deplorable county budget we face today.
As he reminds us every election year, Conway is chairman of the Appropriations Committee in the House of Delegates. That's the committee responsible for the spending bills in that chamber. Besides the speaker of the House, there is no delegate more powerful than Conway when it comes to spending.
Instead of using his power to help Wicomico County cope with the recession that has reduced local tax revenue, Conway made the local fiscal situation worse by supporting a stricter education maintenance of effort requirement for our county government. Thanks to the maintenance of effort mandate, the state is imposing a new $14 million burden on the county this year.
This $14 million mandate wipes out any chance for a new Bennett Middle School. It means income and local property taxes have to be raised to the maximum extent possible. It means the county pension plan cannot be properly funded. It means roads will go unpaved. It means our county will have to spend down its reserves to almost nothing.
Conway's supporters may say he was not the author of the maintenance of effort legislation signed into law. True enough, but he and Delegate Rudy Cane were the only Eastern Shore lawmakers who voted for it. Furthermore, Conway introduced a similar maintenance of effort bill this session. That legislation was passed by the House of Delegates and would have imposed the same kind of fiscal burden on the county.
Given his power in the House of Delegates, Conway's support of the maintenance of effort mandate was key to its passage. If he had opposed it, it would have died. But he did not, and because of his actions, the county is facing a very dire budget situation.
Anyone who is alarmed at the budget choices being made by the county shouldn't complain to the County Council or the county executive. Instead, they should talk to the person who is really responsible: Conway.