Del. Jay Walker is the chairman of the Prince George’s County House Delegation.
The Prince George’s County House of Delegates contingent has new leaders and a plate full of priorities as it settles into the recently convened Maryland General Assembly session.
Del. Jay Walker (D-District 26) was elected chairman of the House delegation in December 2014. Walker said he is ready to go to work. “We have a lot of bright minds and energetic people looking to move things forward,” Walker said. “I think the delegates will do a very good job. I look forward to working together.”
Other officers elected with Walker were Delegates Geraldine Valentino-Smith (D-District 23A) and Michael Vaughn (D-District 24) as first vice chair and second vice chair, respectively. The officers will serve two-year terms.
Walker and his 22 colleagues represent 890,000 Prince George’s County residents in the House, the second largest delegation to the state capital. Leading the county’s eight senators in Annapolis is Douglas J.J. Peters, a Democrat representing District 23.
Sen. Thomas “Mike” Miller (D-District 27) is the president of the senate and is the longest serving presiding officer of a legislative body in the country.
While equal in authority, the House delegation tends to lead on county legislative matters because it has more members.
The Assembly is the state’s legislative body and consists of 47 senators and 141 members of the House of Delegates. The Assembly convened on Jan. 14 at the State House in Annapolis and will meet for 90 calendar days to pass bills – particularly the state’s budget – and monitor the activity of state agencies and perform ceremonial duties.
The new delegates include former county sheriff Michael A. Jackson, former Prince George’s County Council members Will Campos and Tony Knotts, and civic activist Daryl Barnes.
Vaughn, who has served in the House since 2003, said that the delegation will work to maintain the state’s level of funding to the county. “We have high-ticket items that need to be taken care of,” Vaughn said. “We want to make sure that the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development continues its move from Crownsville to New Carrollton. We also want to work for state funding for the new regional hospital that will be in Largo.”
Vaughn said the delegation will keep its eye on where the new FBI headquarters will be located. The U.S. General Services Administration has two sites in Prince George’s County – Greenbelt and Landover – and a site in Springfield, Va., competing for the FBI’s move from the District.
“We have two chances out of three to get the FBI in the county,” Vaughn said. “We realize that this is a federal matter but we will do what we can to get the FBI to relocate to Prince George’s County.”
Latasha Ward, a business owner in Seat Pleasant and a member of the Prince George’s County Democratic Central Committee, said the delegation has other issues to focus on. “They need to work on helping returning citizens integrate into society,” Ward said. “Entrepreneurs need tax incentives to operate their businesses, and costly regulations to be loosened.”
Greg Hall, a former candidate for delegate in District 24 and a political activist, wants a state-supported job-training program, too. “We keep hearing that the economy is getting better and maybe that is the case,” Hall said. “But there are still a lot of unemployed people in Prince George’s County. We need job training for people, especially returning citizens.”
In order for the county’s needs to become reality, they must be addressed by Maryland’s newly elected governor, Larry Hogan (R). Vaughn said the delegation has not had the chance to get to know the governor-elect.
“We have not been approached by his people about what his agenda is,” the delegate said. “We are open to dialogue in terms of what he wants to do and what we want to do. We just don’t know what his agenda is or what he is thinking.”
What Hogan has made clear is that the state’s projected $1.2 billion deficit will have to be closed and he will not support tax increases. Vaughn said that excess spending in the state budget will have to be eliminated. “We are talking dollars and cents,” he said. “Everything in the budget is going to have a price tag.”
Some African-American leaders are worried that historically Black colleges and universities such as Coppin State University and Bowie State University will be cut severely as opposed to the other state-funded institutions. Vaughn said that assumption does not have merit but that cuts will be made that will make some people unhappy.
“Everyone has to have a haircut,” he said. “The question is whether it is a trim or shaved head.”