Chamber board member Tom Dennison introduces (l to r) Sen. Steve Waugh and Delegates Matt Morgan, Deb Rey and Tony O’Donnell.

Leonardtown, MD — Delegate Anthony “Tony” O’Donnell has routinely attended the St. Mary’s County Chamber of Commerce annual legislative breakfast during his 20 years in office. Every year during that entire time he sat at the table in front of the assembled business leaders as the sole Republican member of the county delegation. This year that all changed.

Now O’Donnell is the senior member of an all-GOP delegation and chairman of the county’s House Delegation. He said of his rookie colleagues, “I am working with a really good group,” adding that they “hit the ground running.”  He noted the presence of former delegate John Wood in the audience and told him to rest assured — “We are in good hands.”

O’Donnell talked about a recent meeting he had with the Commander of the Naval Air Systems Command Vice Admiral David Dunaway that included a tour of the Atlantic Test Range. O’Donnell said there was discussion about additional and “a little bit more permanent” protections for the base’s radar systems.

O’Donnell also brought the subject that is on the delegation’s radar – the third building at the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center for the University of Maryland’s unmanned systems education and research programs. ”It is a very important project for our region,” the Calvert/St. Mary’s delegate said.

O’Donnell was critical of his opponent in the November election, Len Zuza, for a letter to the editor blaming the delegation for the funding being removed from the governor’s budget. He said “the narrative is counter-productive.”

The District 29C delegate said he and his colleagues are working on the area’s road projects. Included in those projects is fixing the short turn lane at the new Wildewood Parkway/Route 4 light which is causing backups in evening rush hour. Also being addressed is fixing the problem that Woodland Acres residents are having exiting their community onto Route 4.

O’Donnell said he is working to get monies diverted from one of the two mass transit projects (Blue Line and Red Line) to the Gov. Thomas Johnson Bridge project. “I think we are closer now than we have been,” he said.

Senator Steve Waugh [R – 29th District] told the Chamber members at the Feb. 23 breakfast at Olde Breton Inn that the delegation is collaborating with the county commissioners, the school board and the mayor of Leonardtown. He said his mission this session was to “deliver on campaign promises and provide superb constituent services.”

Waugh said the decision has been made not to establish a “bricks and mortar” district office similar to what his predecessor Sen. Roy Dyson had for 20 years. He said office space along the Route 235 corridor was too expensive and instead he was going to establish “a virtual office,’ which is expected to be up soon.

The freshman senator said he is well on his way to co-sponsoring a hundred bills and has made it a point to do at least one for every senator to show his collegiality.

One of his co-sponsored bills that he singled out is SB 594 which provides an income tax subtraction modification for qualifying volunteer fire, rescue and emergency services members. He has also co-sponsored administration bills and others to make Maryland more business friendly.

Waugh sees there being a good chance that the highway user monies that have been raided for the general fund will be coming back to the counties as they have historically been.

Waugh serves on the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.

District 29A Delegate Matt Morgan is serving on the House Health and Government Operation Committee. He pointed out that reports that St. Mary’s County would be losing $1.7 million in education funding in Gov. Hogan’s budget are erroneous. “That’s a figure that never existed,” he said.

Morgan also noted the support for the business personal property tax elimination from both the county commissioners and the Chamber of Commerce. In addition to local bills on the subject, Gov. Hogan is proposing to eliminate the tax for smaller businesses.

Morgan blamed the tardiness in getting the information in for the budget as the reason for the third building funding being cut. “There is no way it would have made it in the governor’s budget,” he said. But he added that Gov. Hogan told him the third building project sounded like a “good return on investment.”

Del. Deb Rey [R – 29B] told the Chamber members, “I am having a good time up there,” and thanked them for providing a document that had positions on various bills under consideration. She is serving on the Judiciary Committee.

Rey has sponsored two bills (see previous story on her recent town hall meeting: http://www.thebaynet.com/articles/0215/delegate-rey-holds-first-town-hall-meeting.html ). She has co-sponsored 43 bills.

Rey is working on an issue requested by local fire departments and rescue squads to give them access to surplus government equipment, such as boats for rescue operations.

During a round of questions from the audience O’Donnell said he has introduced a bill to remove the automatic inflation escalator for the gas tax. O’Donnell predicted, “We are going a round of inflation we haven’t seen in a long time,” which would cause the gas tax to soar even higher.

The legislators said they also would not be introducing any local bond bills this year. Morgan and Rey noted the looming budget problems over costs of debt service to pay for state projects. Morgan said he wasn’t opposed to all capital projects and government spending. “We just want to get it under control, not stop it all,” he said.

Chamber of Commerce President Margaret Sawyer welcomed the attendees to the breakfast. The legislative portion was moderated by Chamber board member Tom Dennison. At the breakfast the passing of very active board member Kim Cullins was noted.

Contact Dick Myers at news@thebaynet.com