Ocean City Today

Mathias, Carozza give 2018 legislative session updates

By Greg Ellison | May 17, 2018
Photo by: Greg Ellison Sen. Jim Mathias (D-38) confers with constituents during a 2018 legislative session recap breakfast for Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce business members on May 9 at the Carousel Resort Hotel on 118th Street.

(May 18, 2018) In an election preview of sorts, Sen. Jim Mathias (D-38) and Del. Mary Beth Carozza (R-38C) recapped the 2018 legislative session for area business owners last Wednesday at the Carousel Resort Hotel on 118th Street.

The Governor’s Economic Development Committee of Ocean City sponsored the breakfast session for Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce members.

Mathias took the floor first by noting just the day prior Gov. Larry Hogan signed the 11th bill he was primary sponsor on this session.

“Despite what you might read, he and I get along very well and there’s evidence ... you don’t have to get fliers in your mailbox,” he said.

Passing legislation to address safety concerns with annual motor vehicle events was completed on an emergency basis to ensure the enhanced enforcement tool was available for the spring car gatherings, Mathias said.

“I was mayor [of Ocean City] when we did the first ever Bike Week [and] my knees were knocking,” he said.

Turning to the Ocean City Inlet and ongoing shoaling challenges, Mathias urged city and county leaders to mend fences over partially funding a roughly $1.2 million feasibility study by the Army Corps of Engineers to find long-term solutions.

“Get to the table and sign that … thing that gets us going,” he said.

In addition to the lucrative White Marlin Open, Mathias noted a clear inlet channel is crucial for non-recreational fishing interests.

“How about the commercial watermen … right now that’s getting beat around and has a boat load of fish and can’t get them off,” he said.

Offshore wind turbines was one area the meeting moderators asked both politicians to touch upon, with Mathias noting he supported the Maryland Offshore Energy Act in 2013

“I’m not going to run away from the vote,” he said.

In helping to draft the bill, Mathias said his aim was bringing employment and capital investment to Maryland and the Eastern Shore, with the state public utility regulator tasked with approving projects.

“The final check valve was going to be the Public Service Commission that had to make certain this was a net benefit for the rate payers of Maryland,” he said.

The four-member commission approved proposals for both U.S. Wind and Skipjack Offshore Energy last May

“Three were Hogan appointees and it was voted unanimously to approve not one, but both, applicants,” he said.

Mathias said U.S. Wind has only received approval for the first of three proposed project phases at this juncture.

“I still to this day am working with U.S. Wind quietly … to bring them to the table effectively to protect your viewscape,” he said.

Mathias also said he would continue pushing for funds to expand the Ocean City convention center, with plans put on hold after a bill permitting the Maryland Stadium Authority to issue related bonds failed to clear the senate.

“I’ll bring that money home for the convention center,” he said. “We’ll make certain that what we … need here will continue to come home here.”

Taking the podium next was Carozza, who said as a member of the House Appropriations Committee she worked closely on budget priorities.

“A lot of my work is done on the front end working with Gov. Hogan on the proposed budget,” she said.

Carozza thanked the assembled business leaders for prioritizing issues to focus the statewide battle for funding.

“You all are playing a big role in prioritizing so we can have these big wins for the shore,” she said. “We’re not going to get everything on our wish list.”

Among the session budgetary highlights Carozza mentioned were: $52.9 million for the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund, $15 million in the Department of Natural Resources waterway improvement fund, $1.3 million for renovations at Atlantic General Hospital and $13.1a million for the Office of Tourism Development and Maryland Tourism Board.

“We’ve been trying to make sure the highway user funds are returned to the counties and municipalities,” she said.

To that end, included in Maryland’s fiscal year 2109 budget are $57.7 million for counties and $29.9 million for municipalities, Carozza said.

“We still have a way to go to return those highway user funds … that were raided over the past eight years,” she said.

Despite the 2018 session opening with an instant override of Hogan’s earlier veto of mandated paid sick leave legislation, and the subsequent defeat of proposed countermeasures, Carozza said the House leadership has indicated the potential for future revisions exists.

“They left the door open for you as employers to provide as much information on how this bill ends up impacting you this season,” she said.

Navigating to the inlet discussion, Carozza said she continues to try to unite federal, state and local partners.

“We need to make sure everybody has some skin in the game,” she said.

While the Army Corp of Engineers has continued its commitment to dredge in the immediate future, Carozza expressed frustration the required feasibility study could be a multi-year process.

“I don’t just like to hear the word study.  I want to know what the long-term solutions are,” she said.

Shifting to wind turbine concerns, Carozza said she is still seeking a win-win scenario, and has fears outside the viewscape realm.

“There are concerns from the coastal fishing industry about the possible negative impact [and] the true cost of this project for both rate payers and taxpayers,” she said.

Turning to funding concerns for the convention center expansion, Carozza said she sent a formal letter to Hogan and hopes to consult with his staff to examine creative financing options.

“We can’t lose a year on that because of how important the convention center is to not only for our local economy, but how much money it brings into the state,” she said.

In terms of negotiating, Carozza said altering the focus from a shore priority to the larger state benefit has proven to be an effective legislative approach.

“That’s the case that I make in appropriations on the House floor when I get up and advocate for the priorities of Ocean City,” she said. “Tie it to not just local … but make the case for the whole state.”

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