- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 14, 2003

Maryland state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. predicted Friday that a slots bill will pass during the 90-day legislative session that begins Jan. 14, even though there is no consensus on legalizing slot machines in the state.

Mr. Miller, Prince George’s County Democrat, also said he expects the General Assembly to approve a tax bill as lawmakers search for revenues to fund public schools and forestall further cuts in higher-education budgets.

Mr. Miller made the comments at the winter meeting of the Maryland Association of Counties, where he appeared on a panel with House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat, and Kenneth Masters, chief legislative officer for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Mr. Busch said the state needs a major new revenue source to keep the campaign promises that he, Mr. Miller, Mr. Ehrlich and other officials made when they said they would increase school aid and would not reduce aid to local governments or lay off state workers.

Mr. Busch said an increase in the sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent would bring Maryland in line with Pennsylvania and the District and would produce money to help pay for highway construction laid out by the Ehrlich administration, as well as bring in money for education.

“Mike Busch can talk about the sales taxes all he wants, but it’s not going to happen,” Mr. Miller told the county officials.

“The issue is the governor is going to veto any tax increase of that nature,” he said after the meeting.

Mr. Ehrlich has said he would veto any increase in the sales or income taxes, as well as an expansion of the sales tax to cover items that are now exempt. Mr. Miller said there would not be enough votes in the legislature to override a veto.

mA special invitation

The motto of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) reads “Serving the National Capital Region” — and soon that might even include Manassas Park.

COG has been around since 1957, and it does a lot of regional planning on topics ranging from snow removal to homeland security.

But in all this time, Manassas Park was never allowed to join because of a quirk in COG’s bylaws. That was finally changed at COG’s annual meeting last week, and Manassas Park is being extended an invitation.

Officials for the city’s 11,000 residents said in the Potomac News they would like to be able to take part in things like conference calls on emergencies.

• Vote for mayor?

Virginia state Delegate Robert G. Marshall has filed legislation that would let Richmond voters elect their mayor — a change city voters overwhelmingly embraced in a referendum last month.

Mr. Marshall, a conservative Republican from Prince William County best known for his unstinting advocacy of antiabortion and public-morality legislation, announced his sponsorship in a news conference last week with Democratic former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, who championed the change.

In the Nov. 4 election, 80 percent of those voting in Richmond approved amending the city’s charter to change the current system of a largely ceremonial mayor appointed by the City Council to a strong mayor chosen in a citywide election.

Opponents denounced the proposal by saying it would dilute black voting strength in the city. The most outspoken detractor, state Sen. Henry Marsh, Richmond Democrat and Mr. Wilder’s former law school roommate, warned that such a change could provoke racial conflict.

The General Assembly must approve the changes before they can take effect.

• Time for a change

John W. Droneburg, former public safety director for Frederick County, will be the new director of the Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), which coordinates the state’s response to emergencies and would oversee rescue efforts if Maryland is subjected to a terrorist attack.

Mr. Droneburg was appointed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who said he wants a complete reorganization of the agency to make it more responsive to local governments and better able to help victims of disasters.

Maj. Gen. Bruce Tuxill, head of the Maryland National Guard, said the state already has made improvements over the last year, including staffing the emergency-response center 24 hours a day.

Dennis Schrader, the governor’s director of homeland security, said the MEMA organizational structure is pretty much the same as it was before the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

“That’s not appropriate in this day and age,” he said. “The world’s changed. MEMA needs to change.”

• This column is based in part on wire service reports.

• More, please

Metro is stepping up its efforts to get nearly $1.5 billion from the federal government over the next six years.

General Manager Richard A. White said Thursday that the transit agency has been making a good case to Congress that it needs the money to prevent breakdowns and overcrowded trains.

According to Mr. White, U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, has indicated he will hold hearings early next year on Metro’s money woes.

Mr. White said current federal legislation could give Metro $600 million, but Metro would need about $900 million more by 2010.

“This is not a Cadillac proposal. This is a lean, mean Chevy of a plan that is needed to accommodate ridership growth and allow the federal government to operate effectively,” said David Marian, Mr. Davis’ spokesman.

Nearly half of Metro’s passengers are federal workers, and the rail and bus system are a critical part of any evacuation plan.

• Warner to wed

With little fanfare, one of Virginia’s most eligible bachelors is set to walk down the aisle today in the National Cathedral with an Alexandria real estate agent and Washington socialite.

Fifty guests were invited to the wedding ceremony for Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, and Jeanne Vander Myde. It will be the third marriage for both Mr. Warner, 76, and Miss Vander Myde, 65.

In recognition of the couple’s shared Scottish heritage, Mr. Warner will don a Scottish kilt. Many in the wedding party also were expected to wear traditional Scottish attire.

Mr. Warner was secretary of the Navy when his first marriage, to banking heiress Catherine Mellon, ended in divorce in 1973. The settlement made Mr. Warner a millionaire with the means to enter political life.

Three years later, he married screen legend Elizabeth Taylor, who turned him into an overnight celebrity and helped him win his Senate seat in 1978 in a close race. The two were divorced in 1982.

For much of the 1990s, the love of his life was Barbara Walters, the ABC News star.

This column is based in part on wire service reports.

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