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Published on March 16th, 2011 | by Cynthia Prairie

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State Roundup, March 16, 2011

RESTORING CUTS: House leaders want to reverse the bulk of the budget cuts to education proposed by Gov. Martin O’Malley, restoring funding for strapped school systems around the state after an angry backlash from teachers, students and parents, the Sun’s Annie Linskey reports. The plan would shift $58.5 million back to schools by raising some fees and trimming elsewhere.

CUTS PROTEST: Tina Reed of the Annapolis Capital writes that hundreds of Anne Arundel County educators and school employees joined the thousands of union workers rallying in Annapolis Monday to protest proposed state budget cuts.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Columnist Marta Mossburg writes in the Frederick News Post about the value of a charter school education to many Maryland children.

GOP BUDGET: House Republicans offered an alternative to O’Malley’s $14 billion budget that would cut $621 million more with major changes in how the state allocates K-12 money and snipping at many state agencies and programs. But they’d also cut the sales tax and the corporate income tax, Julie Bykowicz blogs for the Sun. Here’s their plan. And here’s highlights of O’Malley’s.

PENSION BILLS: Washington County Republican Del. Andrew Serafini yesterday presented several bills that would revamp the state’s underfunded pension system, Andrew Schotz reports for the Hagerstown Herald Mail.

DEATH PENALTY REPEAL: Advocates for abolishing Maryland’s death penalty made their case yesterday to a House of Delegates committee. But the effort is not likely to gain traction in the Senate, writes the Sun’s Julie Bykowicz, since Senate President Mike Miller said, “There’s no sentiment in the Senate” to debate a repeal.

The Post’s John Wagner blogs that part of the reason remains an uneasy truce reached in 2009, under which higher evidentiary standards are required in capital cases.

John Rydell reports the story for WBFF-TV.

PAROLE QUESTION: The Baltimore Sun editorial board says that with O’Malley sitting on 50 parole recommendations – including seven for lifers – it’s time for the state to take the governor out of the question of who gets paroled.

GAY UNIONS IN 2012: Senate President Mike Miller says passage of a same-sex marriage bill would be no sure thing next year in his chamber, even though it was approved 25 to 21 this year. Miller adds that this year, “the opposition was not engaged,” writes John Wagner for the Post.

But legislators from Montgomery County are confident that the effort will benefit from downtime before it is introduced again next year, writes Sarah Breitenbach for the Gazette.

OOPS, WRONG VOTE: A brief flurry of confusion arose after the Senate vote on in-state tuition for illegal immigrants when Prince George’s Sen. Anthony Muse inadvertently voted in favor of the bill. He subsequently changed his vote, blogs Ann Marimow for the Post.

OPEN GOVERNMENT: The Frederick News Post editorial board addresses Sunshine Week, which is dedicated to educating the public about the importance of open government and the dangers of excessive secrecy.

Meanwhile, the state compliance board found the Allegany County Commissioners were in violation of the Open Meetings Act when they held a closed session in December. It took a while, but the board responded on the side of PhDispatch.com’s complaint, reports Kevin Spradlin of the Potomac Highlands Dispatch.

And Bryan Sears of Patch.com writes about the frustrations of trying to get an answer to a single question from a stalling Baltimore County Public Schools.

FUNDING JOCKEY CLUB: The Sun’s Hanah Cho reports that some state lawmakers questioned yesterday why slot machine revenue allocated for racetrack improvements should be diverted to help fund the day-to-day operations of the Maryland Jockey Club, which reported losing millions at Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course in recent years.

The club was pressing lawmakers yesterday to subsidize its operations through at least 2014 after releasing financial data that shows both of the state’s thoroughbred tracks lost money in 2008 and 2009, Nick Sohr writes for the Daily Record.

BETTING ON SLOTS: With a bleak economy, no new revenues coming in and a reluctance to raise taxes, legislators are wagering that new gambling bills will help the state find more money, Megan Poinski writes for MarylandReporter.com.

SLOTS IN FREDERICK: State lawmakers are considering bringing slot machines to Frederick County, Meg Tully reports for the Frederick News Post. A proposal would allow slots within 5 miles of the intersection of I-70 and I-270 and increase the state’s maximum number of machines from 15,000 to 17,500.

PRESERVING PARKS: Kevin Spradlin of the Potomac Highlands Dispatch writes that on Monday Gov. O’Malley touted the first-ever economic impact study on state parks and forests. Later at the forum at New Germany State Park, residents used that as leverage to explain to O’Malley that’s one of many reasons why the state’s natural resources – and its funding — should be preserved. Click on the videos on the right to hear local testimony.

HEADWINDS ON WIND: Still, the O’Malley administration’s proposal to build off-shore wind turbines faced strong headwinds in the Senate Finance Committee yesterday. Senators spent almost 2½ hours grilling administration officials about the annual cost to consumers, Len Lazarick writes for MarylandReporter.com.

WIND NOT SO COSTLY: Maryland’s Public Service Commission says a plan to make state utilities buy offshore wind energy will not cost ratepayers as much as some had feared, instead raising the average homeowner’s electric bill 92 cents to $3 a month under O’Malley’s offshore wind proposal, an AP story on WJZ.com reports.

MO’M PAL STANDS TO GAIN: The Post’s Aaron Davis writes that O’Malley’s childhood friend and right-hand man for a decade stands to gain from the governor’s ambitious plan to subsidize development of an estimated $1.5 billion offshore wind farm.

BAY CLEANUP: The Sun’s Timothy Wheeler writes that a federal study credits farmers with making progress in reducing their pollution to the Chesapeake Bay but says the vast majority need to do more to help the troubled estuary.

In an op-ed piece for the Sun, Megan Cronin writes Maryland needs to create a smarter fertilizer policy since fertilizer application to lawns, play areas, golf courses and parks now make up a quarter of the pollution problems in the Bay.

ABORTION PROTEST: Pushing bills to regulate clinics, hundreds of anti-abortion advocates rallied in Annapolis Monday, reports Jeff Newman of the Gazette.

EHRLICH JOB: Former Gov. and U.S. Rep. Bob Ehrlich is joining King & Spalding in Washington, D.C., as a senior counsel in the the law firm’s government advocacy and policy practice, according to the Daily Record.

He’ll be taking some of his former staff members with him as well, blogs the Sun’s Annie Linskey.

JOHNSON VOWS FIGHT: The Post’s Maria Glod and and Ovetta Wiggins write that former Prince George’s County Exec Jack Johnson vowed yesterday to fight federal bribery charges, saying he had devoted “every minute, every effort” of his tenure to the county’s residents.

Kelly McPherson reports on the new developments in the corruption scandal.

WA CO BUDGET: Washington County officials yesterday approved a plan expected to save the county anywhere from $500,000 to $1.9 million through a combination of retirement incentives and organizational restructuring, reports Heather Keels for the Hagerstown Herald Mail.

FUNDING WITHHELD: Lindsey McPherson of the Columbia Flier writes that Howard County Exec Ken Ulman is freezing federal funds that flow through to the county’s Domestic Violence Center, and that he plans to withhold future funding to the nonprofit unless major leadership problems are resolved.

TAX SHORTFALL: Finance officials say the package of taxes and fees crafted by Baltimore city officials to meet a budget deficit last year is estimated to fall short of projected revenues by nearly $17 million, writes Julie Scharper for the Sun.

ETHICS VIOLATION? Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has voted to approve more than $900,000 in deals with Johns Hopkins since her husband began working for one of its divisions late last year — a possible violation of the city ethics code, Julie Scharper reports for the Sun.

ANNAPOLIS BUDGET: Elisha Sauers of the Annapolis Capital writes that Annapolis Mayor Josh Cohen, determined to avoid raising property tax rates or taking away more city workers’ jobs next year, unveiled a $86.2 million budget that relies on substantial fee increases.

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