Economic Woes Expected To Keep Legislators Busy

BERLIN – With the calendar flipping over to 2009 this week, it isn’t too early to take at look at some of the issues facing the Maryland General Assembly when it convenes in two weeks, and with a staggering state and national economy, huge budget deficits, layoffs and furloughs, state lawmakers will certainly have a lot on their plate this year.

Delegate James Mathias (D-38B) this week reflected on some the issues of state and local importance his colleagues will undertake when the General Assembly convenes later this month. First and foremost on everybody’s mind going into the session is the economy, the impacts of which is already trickling down to local level with cuts in programs, job layoffs, home foreclosures and a variety of other impacts.

Mathias said this week issues related to the economy will likely be front and center when the assembly session opens in two weeks, but remained confident state lawmakers will tackle them with aplomb.

“Obviously, our priority will be to address these economic conditions, which have become a challenge for all of Maryland, the Eastern Shore and our district,” he said. “Tough choices will have to be made, but the challenge will be to come to some real solutions with the least amount of pain as possible.”

Tackling weighty economic issues will take a concerted effort bereft of partisan politics, according to Mathias. He called on his colleagues to put aside their differences to reach real and practical decisions for the citizens of Maryland and his district.

“I’m certain it will take a team effort to protect Maryland and its citizens during these trying times and I am going to do my part,” he said. “By being rational and prudent, we’re going to come through this thing. We will all have to make sacrifices, and if we do, we’ll come out on the other side of this thing okay.”

More specifically, Mathias said there are several weighty issues germane to the district likely to be debated in the upcoming session, not the least of which are several anticipated bills related to farming and agriculture. State lawmakers will likely weigh in on several pieces of legislation related to farming and nutrient management plans during the upcoming session, and Mathias said he intends to make sure the interests of Worcester County and the Lower Shore are protected in the debate.

“We all know the importance of tourism to our local economy, but no less important is agriculture,” he said. “It is very, very important that we protect our agriculture and our poultry industry, which will probably come under some fire in this session. I will take it all into consideration and remain conscious as we go forward that we don’t do anything that is rash. These are the things on the minds of our citizens in the district.”

Another issue of local importance during the upcoming session is the likely effort to revamp the state’s med-evac system. After a tragic accident in September, state officials will likely debate bills calling for the privatization of the system, but Mathias this week warned it was paramount for Worcester County and other rural areas of Maryland to retain the current system.

“That service is priceless in saving lives in rural areas and we need to know exactly what we’re doing with that,” he said. “God forbid a member of the family, or a resident or visitor needs that service and it isn’t there. Just look at how many people we fly off that beach each year.”

Another issue critical in the upcoming session is the growing shortage of doctors throughout the state, but particularly in the rural areas. Mathias said this week addressing the doctor shortage would be another priority for state lawmakers this year.

“The shortages have become acute across the state in general, but in the rural areas specifically,” he said. “Doctors are looking at other places because of higher compensation or the opportunity to retire their debt in the form of student loans quicker. I can’t emphasize how important it is in our district. I don’t know what the answers are, but the issue is becoming acute.”

Mathias also said maintaining state funding for highway projects will also be a significant challenge in the upcoming session. In Worcester County, that means the continued effort to dualize the dangerous Route 113 corridor, which was spared massive transportation cuts earlier this year.

“We were very fortunate the last time around that Route 113 was one of only three roadway projects in the state to survive the cuts and we have to continue to press to make sure the funding stream continues to flow,” he said. “Keeping Route 113 on the front burner will be a challenge this year, but I’m confident we can do that. It certainly helps having Delegate Conway as the chair of the appropriations committee.”

In yet another issue of local importance, Mathias said he is prepared to submit a bill allowing slot machines in service clubs in Worcester County. A similar bill was approved by the House last year, but died in the 11th hour before the Senate could vote on it.

“That bill is ready to go and we’ll drop it in the hopper when the session opens,” he said. “We got it out of the House last year, but it didn’t make it at the last minute.”