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Democratic Leaders Outline Construction Plans

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland’s Democratic leaders outlined their proposals for boosting construction and jobs before a panel Thursday, while Republicans criticized tax proposals and slow-movement on allowing drilling in western Maryland’s Marcellus Shale.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller also emphasized that a sales tax increase floated by Gov. Martin O’Malley on the first day of the legislative session doesn’t have legs.

“It’s not happening, folks,” Miller, D-Calvert, told the Maryland Economic Development Association in Annapolis on the second day of the state’s 90-day legislative session.

However, Miller said he hoped a gas tax increase would be approved to help pay for transportation infrastructure, noting the tax hasn’t been raised since 1992.

But Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Cecil, said the state simply isn’t spending the money it already has for transportation effectively.

“Before we turn around and ask citizens to write a check for more, we need to talk about how we currently spend our dollars,” Pipkin said.

The Senate minority leader also criticized a lengthy process outlined by the O’Malley administration to allow drilling in the Marcellus Shale. He noted that a final report with findings and recommendations relating to the impact of drilling isn’t due until 2014.

“We have companies that want to put $10, $20, $30 billion — that’s right, billion dollars — in western Maryland and this administration hasn’t moved,” Pipkin said. “We are not creating those jobs.”

O’Malley has underscored that he wants to be cautious due to concerns that the hydraulic fracturing process used to drill for natural gas in the geological formation has had serious environmental and health implications in other states.

House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, emphasized a strong push the governor and the legislature will be making to invest in infrastructure. He noted O’Malley’s announcement that week that he is steering $370 million into school construction as an example.

“That $370 million will leverage $500 million of local money,” Busch said. “That’s 11,000 construction jobs. The construction industry is down 20 percent. Labor costs are low. The interest rates are going to be as low as they’re ever going to be — 3 and a half, 4 percent — and each one those schools provides a community benefit.”

Delegate Anthony O’Donnell, R-Calvert, pointed to how Maryland approved a $9.5 million grant to keep Bechtel Power Corp. from moving out of Frederick.

“We’re threatened by policies that drive job creation and economic development out of the state and some people minimize that,” O’Donnell said. “They say it’s not happening. I’m here to tell you it is happening.”

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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