EASTON — State Sen. Addie Eckardt, R-37-Mid-Shore; and state Del. Chris Adams, R-37B-Wicomico; reviewed the 2019 Maryland General Assembly with community members Friday, May 24, at a forum hosted by the Talbot County Republican Central Committee.
The state representatives also were joined by U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md.-1st, for the forum.
The representatives received a number of topics, including the budget, heath care, minimum wage and renewable energy.
“For me it was a really productive year in Annapolis,” Eckardt said. “I like to find things that people can work on and agree on and truly make a difference. I want to make the quality of life better for folks without raising taxes.”
She said state lawmakers faced several challenges with House Speaker Michael Busch’s failing health, cancer treatments for Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-27-Prince George’s; and new senators changing leadership roles in committees.
“I think we did really well in spite of all of those challenges,” Eckardt said. “We try to work together as much as possible in the Senate unlike Washington. We get polarized on some issues, but as much as possible with the budget and tax committee, we are committed to being fiscally responsible and that continued under the direction of Chairman Nancy King.”
Eckardt said the budget passed with a 3.5% increase with more money getting put away in the rainy day fund.
“(Gov. Larry Hogan) would have liked to have put more money in (the rainy day fund),” she said. “We would have liked to have put more money in the Rainy Day Fund because we think there might be a recession looming. You can’t keep going up in the economy. Eventually it is going to go down.”
Adams said the state faces a $870 million budget shortfall when the next legislative session opens in 2020.
“We had a chance to really deliver a more responsible budget had we adopted the budget as the governor presented,” he said. “That did not happen. The governor presented a $1.3 billion rainy day fund. The Democrats could not wait to touch that and fence off money for their own pet projects. That is upsetting to me.”
Eckardt said the challenge remains how to increase funding without raising taxes.
“We do not want to change the governor’s track record for not increasing taxes,” she said. “We did not do that for five years in a row. We don’t want to do that in the future.”
Eckardt said companies such as Choptank Electric and Easton Utilities continue to work toward bringing high-speed broadband to rural areas. She said the companies regularly meet with state officials to find ways to forge partnerships for installing more broadband.
On the health care front, Eckardt said a bill was passed to allow residents to check a box on their income tax form whether or not they want more information about health care.
“When that happens, there is authorization from the Comptroller’s Office to contact those individuals and offer them a health care product that was reasonable that they may be able to afford,” she said. “We have been successful with Health Choice, which is our version of a modified private plan for individuals.”
House Bill 298 — Oysters – Tributary-Scale Sanctuaries – Protection and Restoration — will establish a network of five oyster sanctuaries in Harris Creek, the Little Choptank River, the St. Mary’s River and the Manokin River. The bill was vetoed by Hogan, but the General Assembly overrode Hogan’s veto.
Eckardt, who opposed the bill and supported Hogan’s veto, said it is imperative the voices of watermen are included in restoration discussions.
“A lot of us were very upset about that because we didn’t think all five of those sanctuaries should be locked down,” she said.
Adams said he is upset to see Hogan have 103 vetoes overridden in five years. He said the overrides take authority away from the executive branch, and there should be a separation between the executive and legislative branches.
Adams touted the House Republicans efforts to elected Del. Adrienne A. Jones, D-Baltimore County, the first female African-American speaker of the house. He believes Jones will do a great job for Maryland and the Eastern Shore in her new role.
He said the 42 Republicans face an uphill challenge in the 141-member Maryland House of Delegates.
“How did we exert the maximum amount of influence in delivering an outcome that was beneficial for the Eastern Shore,” he asked. “Frankly, for us to make things happen on important issues, we have to come together. We were going to vote as one block of 42 for the next speaker.
“We worked hard with members of the Democratic party, specifically the legislative Black Caucus, to deliver what was ultimately a historical decision,” he said. “We had a female, African-American, Adrienne Jones, become our next speaker who I view as being a listener, believer in the institution, (with) traditional values.
“Had the Republicans in the House of Delegates not done precisely what we did, we would have had a far more progressive, transformational person win that position, and upend much of the leadership that we have in the state of Maryland,” he said. “Those issues that matter most to us on the Eastern Shore would have been additionally difficult.”
Adams then took aim at the passage of the $15 an hour minimum wage bill.
“We passed a bill raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, which is one of a number examples of how the legislature likes to write my employee manual for me,” said Adams, who is on the Economic Matters Committee and is a business owner with 36 employees. “I’m flatly offended by the effort (by) bureaucrats who think they know better than I do the value of labor.
“When you artificially increase the minimum wage, you do two things for the state of Maryland,” he said. “Number one, you make it much more difficult for me as an employer to hire first-time job seekers — young students coming out of college or high school. The other dramatic and, frankly, frustrating part of this is that Maryland, with our partners in Virginia at $7.25 an hour and Delaware, I believe, at $9.50, will have a competitive disadvantage in place immediately in January when we raise the rate up.
Adams said they were able to remove the ability for the commissioner of labor and industry to walk into any business and conduct an investigation without any reason other than they had their own volition.
“We kept it to primarily an hour-rate bill,” he said.
In the state’s quest for clean energy, Adams believes agriculture and resort towns, such as Ocean City, could suffer due to the placement of solar panels on fields and offshore windmills.
“The delivery of renewable energy will be a frustrating reality for us on the Eastern Shore,” he said. “We are going to get there by proliferating solar on flat farm land. We are going to do it, frankly, by offending many people that are property owners in Ocean City by erecting tall wind mills. We are going to do it in a way that is going to disrupt in my opinion how Ocean City is competitive with other regions like Virginia Beach and North Carolina where in those instances they put offshore wind behind the eyesight.”
Adams commended Harris for his efforts to find a suitable compromise for the clean energy issues.
“The congressman has been a leader in delivering the right points and the right forum for hopefully making some change there,” Adams said. “Ultimately, everybody should be about a clean environment. I’m for a clean environment. I want Chesapeake Bay. My children are going to inherit the Eastern Shore — hopefully in the same condition I’m enjoying it today.
“We don’t do that by taking policies that don’t really deliver on the results,” he said. “I don’t want to see energy production off the coast of Ocean City. I don’t want 400-acre solar projects taking up valuable agriculture land as we are trying to keep Perdue Farms, Mountaire, Tyson. These are the companies that are the foundation for our Eastern Shore.”