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County leaders disucss legislative priorities

COLLEGE PARK — During the county council retreat, local leaders discussed priorities for the county for the upcoming General Assembly legislative session this month. Prince George’s county executive and members of Prince George’s county council and General Assembly delegation met on Jan. 4 at The Hotel at the University of Maryland to discuss the legislative priorities for th upcoming legislative session.

Some of the major topics they discussed include transportation infrastructure, education, the maglev and the opioid crisis.

“Our theme for the retreat is ‘start strong, finish stronger,’” said Dannielle Glaros, chair of the county council.

“This is the last year for many of my colleagues on the county council.....there’s lots of transition happening in the county. What we want to do is make sure some of the key priorities that have been undertaken both by the Rushern Baker III administration and this county council continue to move forward this year and beyond.”

County Executive Baker said focusing on getting money for transportation infrastructure could be crucial for the county.

“Transportation infrastructure, that’s economic development,” he said. “Plain and simple. Our fight for additional dollars that will help us build and maintain access to our roads, bridges.”

Baker also pointed out that there are still 10 Metro stations in the county that could have development, not counting the future Purple Line stops.

“I think the transportation infrastructure that we fight for at the state is to put us in a position so that the rest of our Metro stations and future Metro stations are in a position for us to use as economic development tools,” Baker said.

He also said fully funding Metro could be an important topic.

Baker said the county “should be leading the effort and conversation about what does (fully funding Metro) look like in terms of funding from the state.”

Councilwoman Deni Taveras said the county should also focus on how it can maintain the agreement county leaders signed in November to protect low-income families who live along the route of the future Purple Line.

The agreement is not legally binding.

“I think your question is one we should put at the top of the list when we’re looking at our legislative agenda,” Baker said in response. “(It) has a lot to do with policies and procedures we put in place at county level.”

Councilwoman Karen Toles said that even after all the various groundbreakings in the county over the past year, there were still opportunities for more development in 2018.

“It’s not too late to go after other areas,” Toles said.

Education was also a common topic of discussion among these county leaders. They talked about school construction, school funding, and pre-K funding.

Baker said he believes school construction is “one of the areas where I think we can make some headway in the upcoming session.”

Several officials said they hope the conversation for education in the county this year focuses on funding rather than the structure of the education system.

“I don’t want to see the county get into a discussion about the governance structure of this system while the whole state is talking about money,” Baker said. “Because, the conversation about the Kirwan Commission is about money, where it goes, how’s it split up…We can talk about governance structure, whether it should change or not change, in 2019.”

Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith (D-23A) agreed. “We are concerned about getting sucked into a vortex of discussion on the organization of the school board and audit findings…I believe that other interest groups are looking to monopolize a tremendous amount of our time and our delegates’ time during the session with that issue.

“And I believe...that the other counties are looking forward to us getting stuck in that type of discussion and losing our energy and our collective focus on capital and operating (budgets).”

Valentino-Smith said the delegation is also interested in finding funding for pre-K programs in the county.

Another topic of discussion was the proposed superconducting magnetic levitation, or maglev, train that would run between Baltimore and Washington D.C., cutting through communities in Prince George’s County.

Members of the county council have criticized the project, but Valentino-Smith said they need more detail from the county executive for his position on the maglev.

“If we’re not collectively working together, we’re not going to achieve a goal,” she said.

Baker was not present at the meeting when that part of the conversation took place.

State Sen. James Rosapepe (D-21) suggested that the county council hire its own consultant to promote their stance on the maglev.

Baker also suggested that the county focus on the opioid crisis in the coming year.

Baker said, “I think we should be teaming up with other jurisdictions to do something about access to quality healthcare and access to drug treatment, and that should be part of what we push for in the next session.”

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