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$32 million for ICC cut from budget plan

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 5, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — A Senate panel voted yesterday to cut $32 million from the Intercounty Connector (ICC), but lawmakers were assured a modified financing plan would keep the highway project on track.

The idea behind the cut is to keep $32 million in the state's $15.2 billion General Fund at a time when lawmakers are bracing for a drop in projected revenue this week.

The state has budgeted $85 million for fiscal 2009 for the ICC, which supporters say is desperately needed to ease congestion.

The 18-mile road linking Montgomery and Prince George's counties would cost an estimated $2.4 billion. It's slated to be completed by 2012.

The ICC funding plan had assumed that $263 million would be paid in cash. An initial $50 million has been put into the plan, which called for an additional $212 million to be paid over the next two years.

The new proposal would stretch the payment over four years. Transportation officials also would have to modify the financing for the road. One option would be to issue a special three-year bond. Another would be to forward fund the project out of the state's Transportation Trust Fund, which is used for transportation projects, and then repay the money in General Fund money later.

Sen. Rona E. Kramer, Montgomery Democrat, bristled at the cut, saying the state would be "taking a big chance" in modifying the financing by "adding a lot of factors into the mix."

"I think it would be a terrible idea to do this right now," she said.

But Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr., Anne Arundel Democrat, said he didn't think the $32 million in reductions, when considered with other options, would pose a problem to a $2.4 billion project with broad support.

"We all have supported this project over the years," Mr. DeGrange said.

The road linking Interstate 270 in Montgomery County with Interstate 95 in Prince George's County potentially would relieve many rush-hour backups.

The ICC, originally proposed as part of an "outer beltway," has been on regional planning maps for more than four decades.

The $32 million General Fund cut to the ICC was among a total of about $51 million in cuts approved by the Senate's Budget and Taxation Committee yesterday.

Lawmakers have been paring down the budget in anticipation of revised Board of Revenue projections, which are set to be made public tomorrow.

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Gourmands who favor duck liver delicacies can keep eating. A proposal to ban foie gras in Maryland is headed toward rejection.

A senator who sponsored the proposed ban said before its hearing yesterday that she is likely to withdraw or modify her bill after learning more about foie gras, which is French for "fatty liver" and is produced by force-feeding geese and ducks.

"It seemed like an excellent idea," Sen. Joan Carter Conway, Baltimore Democrat, said of the bill she sponsored.

"It appears to me it's a terrible practice. It's a gruesome practice," Mrs. Conway said of foie gras production. But, she went on, "I think the bill went a little far."

More than a half-dozen states have considered foie gras bans, but only California has passed a ban into law, and it won't take effect until 2012.

Foie gras is not produced in Maryland, but some restaurants serve it.