Despite having to navigate unusual circumstances because of COVID-19 precautions, both reported successes for Garrett County this year.
The House was split into two groups, one half meeting in the chamber, and the other in two large conference rooms participating virtually from the House office building. Beitzel was one of the delegates to remain in the chamber, socially distanced from fellow lawmakers.
“This is probably the most unique session I’ve ever been involved in as a legislator,” Edwards said.
“It took a lot more effort to get things done and get bills through,” Beitzel said.
Sen. George Edwards and Del. Wendell Beitzel, both R-Garrett, held legislative wrap-up sessions at the end of May, including at the Garrett County Chamber of Commerce’s Business Before Hours.
“It was a really strange session,” Beitzel said. “We didn’t know exactly what we were going to get into when we got in.”
Cages were built around the senators’ desks on the floor and in committee rooms. Senators had to be on the floor and in committee to cast votes, but otherwise, proceedings were held online, he said.
A member of the House Appropriations Committee, Beitzel said the state wound up “rolling in cash” after passing the budget because of the amount of money provided because of the federal stimulus bills.
The total budget this year is $52.5 billion, down slightly from last year’s $54 billion, mainly because of education and other expenditures, according to Beitzel. “Things really looked bleak going into this year with the budget. When we left last year, there was anticipation that there would be a billion-dollar structural deficit,” he said.
During the summer, the Board of Public Works reduced the budget by $300 million in preparation for dealing with a deficit. “But actually, the state fared pretty well during this whole thing,” Beitzel said. The primary reason was the drop in income tax revenue was not as steep as projected, he said, as well as the state sales tax bringing in more than had been expected during the pandemic.
Also, with a significant part of the population holding federal jobs, the layoffs weren’t as bad in some parts of the state. “We got hit really hard here, obviously, in Garrett County with small businesses being required to shut down,” he added. Garrett County will receive appropriations totaling $41 million for the 2021-22 fiscal year, a rise from last year’s $39.5 million, Beitzel reported. Of that, $24.99 million will go to education — for schools, colleges and libraries.
Edwards said there was an “artesian well” of money coming down from the federal government, including funding that will be arriving for the county and municipalities. The capital budget also included $200,000 in funding for the Friendsville Vietnam Veterans Memorial, $1.1 million needed to complete the Garrett County athletic facility renovations at the two high schools, and $1.1 million for the Deep Creek Lake dredging project near Arrowhead Cove.