The Washington County delegation’s efforts to secure a share of a wealth-based grant were rewarded Thursday when a key Senate committee voted to approve a measure that could bring about $1.55 million to the county’s general fund for fiscal year 2014.
The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee adopted a formula based on the local piggyback income tax rate of counties, which could give Washington County a share of the wealth-based grant called the Disparity Grant.
Getting the grant money has been one of the top priorities of the county delegation during the current session of the Maryland General Assembly, and delegation members were cautious, but optimistic Thursday.
The grant, which was created in the early 1990s, gives state money to less wealthy jurisdictions, and is calculated according to a formula where counties with per-capita income tax revenue of less than 75 percent of the state average become eligible for it.
But the disparity grant program was frozen in 2010, and counties that were not eligible that year have not been able to rejoin the program even if the county’s per-capita income tax revenue is less than 75 percent of the state average.
Washington County is one of the jurisdictions affected by the freeze, and local legislators have been making efforts since 2012 to ensure that the county gets a share of the grant.
According to the original formula, the county is eligible for $7.7 million in fiscal year 2014.
“The Senate has fixed it in a way I think is fair and reasonable,” said Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington and chairman of the county delegation. “Did we want more? Sure, we did.
“This is a great first step, but there are three weeks to go (until the end of the session) and a lot could happen. We won’t know 'til the last day.”
After the measure passes the Senate, the issue will be discussed by a conference committee — a group made up of representatives from both chambers.
“The key (to getting the grant money) will be the conference committee,” said Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, who also is a member of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.
Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said in an email that “we have worked very hard to convince the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee to correct the unintended consequences of past years that reduced our disparity grant.”
Shank said he had met with committee Chairman Edward J. Kasemeyer, D-Baltimore/Howard, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Prince George’s/Calvert, to request the changes.
Shank also had testified at a previous committee hearing and asked for an amendment to the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act of 2013 so that several jurisdictions, including Washington County, become eligible for Disparity Grant money.
But Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, wondered whether the measure would receive the support from the House of Delegates.
“They can totally negate what happens,” Donoghue said.
He said he hopes that local Republican legislators would vote for the budget, something they haven’t always done in previous years.
“If they won’t vote for the very money they are asking for, we won’t be taken seriously,” he said.