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June 19, 1998

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10 - CAPE GAZETTE, Friday, June 19 - June 25, i998" Partisan ploys pushing Bunting to limit in Dover By Rosanne Pack General Assembly observers usually nod toward Dover about this time of year and say, "Business as usual," as lawmakers scurry through the waning days of the ses- sion, performing a dance of confrontation and compromise to get wanted and needed legislation passed by June 30. At least one elected official is feeling fed up with business as usual when it comes to narrowly focused partisan politics. "I've come to the point that if Senate rules are not changed when we come back in January, I am going to resign my seat. I am going to tell my caucus that," said Sen. George Bunting, D-Bethany Beach. "If the Democratic caucus doesn't change the rules to better accommodate our fellow Republi- cans, I no longer want to be a part of it." Bunting served 12 years in the House of Representatives before he was elected to the 18th Senatorial District seat in 1996. He said he understands party loyalty and parti- sanship, but he is frustrated with the way progress can grind to a standstill because of political game-playing. "I feel very strongly about this," he said. "I went to the Legislature to serve the public, to discuss issues, not to play partisan games." Bunting's frustration was brought to a head BUNTING by two recent unsuc- cessful votes on a revenue sharing measure that would redistribute the property transfer tax collected by the state and counties or municipalities. Twice defeated, the bill would give a larger share of the tax to the localities without increasing the total of the 3 percent tax that is collected. Most lawmakers on both sides of the aisle acknowledge that they want H.B. 525 to pass, but Senate Republicans have used two negative votes on the issue to show their dissatisfaction with what they perceive as heavy-handed treatment by existing Senate rules. The Republican-sponsored bill passed the House unanimously. Because it is a tax-related bill, it requires a two-thirds vote for passage; the 13 Democratic Sena- tors need at least one Republican to vote with them to meet the number. Bunting said a compromise will be reached, the bill will pass, but he can under- stand the frustration that the Republicans are experiencing. "As the majority party in the Senate, the Democrats have written the rules to fit what they want, and it's not at all fair. Republi- cans are each allowed only one bill a ses- sion; in that position, you have to get some- one to work your bills. It's not the way it should be," he said. He said the vote that denied passage of the real estate transfer tax redistribution il- lustrates the depth of the frustration. "The Republicans are under a lot of pres- sure to pass this legislation. Many of them represent small towns the way I do, and those towns can use the money that this bill would bring them," Bunting said. 'q'he two votes to defeat the bill? That's about Demo- cratic and Republican politics, not about the merits of the bill. "People tell me this is the way it has al- ways been, and the Republicans thought it was fine when they had the majority in the Senate. Well, that was then and this is now. It's not fine now," he said. "I was put in a position of leadership, and I could coast, but I won't. Here we are, the 18th of June, and it's push-pull to get legis- lation passed. I can understand some of this, I'm a loyal Democrat, but to not allow the other side access to the playing field...," he said. Bunting said there are indications that he is not the only one who thinks that it is time for a change of rules in the Senate. The Sen- ator said it will be a priority he will push for when the General Assembly convenes in January 1999, and the outcome will deter- mine whether or not he remains in his seat. Third time around may [ e charm for transfer tax legislation By Rosanne Pack The revenue-sharing legislation that flew out of the House on a unanimous affirmative vote was shot down, not once, but twice, in the Senate, but most lawmakers think that it will fly again. Sussex County bet on that when county council members voted to accept an increased portion of the existing 3 percent property trans- fer tax money by increasing the amount collected by the county without increasing the total amount collected. The bill, H.B. 525, would reduce the state por- tion from 2 percent to 1.5 percent and increase the local jurisdiction portion from 1 percent to 1.5 per- cent. Sen. George Bunting, D- Bethany Beach, said that the bill got sidetracked by political game- playing as the legislative session winds down. In two attempts, the 13 Democ- ratic senators could not find a Re- publican to vote with them for the necessary two-thirds majority needed for tax bills. However, Bunting said it will resurface, perhaps with a new bill number and a little doctoring, and it will pass. As written, the bill could allow counties and municipalities to shave the 0.5 percent from the to- tal 3 percent property transfer tax- es now collected if they did not vote to "increase" local taxes from 1.0 percent to 1.5 percent. "It will be brought back," Bunting said. "The governor's of- fice is concerned about the munic- ipalities having to vote to get the 0.5 percent; he wants to see it run clean without the appearance of voting for a tax increase. "But the bottom line is that this is about partisan politics." Rep. John Schroeder, D-Lewes, agrees that the plan for revenue sharing is not a dead issue. "It will be resurrected," he said. "It was voted out of the House unanimously, and it has merit to be approved in the Senate and sent to the Governor. "It should pass with a little tweaking; it may be introduced as a new bill with another number, but it is the best revenue sharing plan so far." Senate Majority Leader Robert Voshell agrees. "It's going to happen, the ques- tion is, in what form?" Voshell said. "It probably will be consid- ered along with the tax cuts and money measures next week. 'q'his was a party line vote, neg- atively reflecting the unhappiness that Senate Republicans have with what we call the 'Big Picture Committee' that negotiates spend- ing proposals. The committee has traditionally been eight members, two from each caucus of the House and the Senate; all caucuses are equally represented. The Republicans are asking for a restructuring of who sits on the committee. "One we get the committee working, it will all fall into place." With the state looking at a sur- plus of more than $425 million, lawmakers and localities have been casting about for ways to spread some of the largess out over the general population. A redistribution of the property transfer tax met with general ap- proval, and the hesitation caused by the two recent Senate votes is looked at as a temporary setback. Referring to the vote taken in Sussex County Council, Bunting said, "It is the fair thing for the county to do. I have a number of small towns in my district that re- ally need the $15,000 that would come to them from the county, and the resort towns will find meaningful ways to use what is a nice windfall for them. "County council members were wise to prepare themselves; they are ready and holding." Bunting and Schroeder said they expect the property transfer tax revenue sharing plan to resur- face in one form or another for a vote before the June 30 end of the legislative session. Voshell added that no one wants to see an extra session scheduled to deal with measures that are not resolved by June 30. Support for smaller classes gets bigger; two bills pass chambers By Rosanne Pack First there was no legislation regarding the number of students in public school classrooms, then there was one bill and now there are two. Each chamber of the General Assembly has passed a version of legislation that will reduce the number of students per teacher and which bill will make it into law by June 30 remains to be seen. "The good news is that everyone seems to want smaller classes in kindergarten through third grade. The bills are not that far apart," said Rep. John Schroeder, D- Lewes. "Ours is more inclusive. It provides for reducing the num- ber of students and provides a mechanism for paying for the nec- essary teachers and classrooms." SCHROEDER Schroeder, Rep. Timothy Boulden, R-Newark West, and Rep. Stephanie Ulbrich, R-Newark South, cosponsored H.B. 663 that passed the House unanimously earlier this week. Sen. David Sokola, D-Newark, is the prime sponsor of S.B. 388 that passed the Senate on Tuesday. Since both bills were approved in their chambers, they will go to a bipartisan com- mittee that will review all money measures to be considered in deciding what to do with the state's $432+ million surplus. The committee is composed of two representa- tives of each of the four caucuses. Sen. Robert Voshell, D-Milford, said Schroeder deserves a lot of credit for the years he has put into building support for class size reduction legislation. He said both bills are good, but the Senate version would require an additional bill, S.B. 334, to provide funding for new classrooms and teachers needed to serve classes of 20 stu- dents ..... The estimates range from approximately teachers and classrooms than will be needed. Schroeder said, "The bottom line is that we will have a class size reduction law. It is a win-win situation. "I guess all good things take time, and I have been working on this for many years. But, it's obvious that everyone wants it." Price's AliCe bill moving Rep. Shirley Price, D-Millville, saw her H.B. 504 successfully move through the House last week. The bill would require the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission to give more notice and to schedule public hear- ings regarding applica- tions from businesses selling alcohol and pro- viding entertainment. Price said its general intent is to provide citi- zens with more knowl- $30 million for two years of enactment to al- edge of and more local most $40 million for the same time span. control over the kind of PRICE The second figure comes from the controller establishments that lo- general's office, and some lawmakers say cate in their neighborhoods. She said the re- that figure includes a greater number of new sponse to the bill has been extremely posi- rive. In the fine tuning before House passage, the bill was amended to exempt municipali- ties from the noise ordinances that it con- tained. Most municipalities have their own noise regulations and there is no necessity for duplication. The noise ordinance con- tained in the bill will still apply to unincor- porated areas if the legislation passes." Price said, "One reason it passed the House with an overwhelming vote is be- cause I have the support of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, the state police, the Department of Public Safety, the Coalition of Coastal Communities and so many property owners who want to exer- cise control over their environment and their investments." She said there is almost universal agree- ment that adequate notification should be given to areas where bars and restaurants are applying for licenses to resell liquor or to add to or alter their facilities.'q'his is a safety issue, a family values and a property values issue," Price said. "I'm hoping that it will be approved in the Senate early next week."