May 16, 2011

State Roundup, May 16, 2011

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HIDDEN DONORS: A loophole in state campaign finance laws allowed contributors to Maryland candidates and political groups to pump $4.3 million into the 2010 election cycle while remaining anonymous — denying citizens a thorough look at the money that flows into politics, reports Julie Bykowicz of the Sun.

TOLL HIKES: While large increases in tolls on Maryland’s bridges and tunnels were proposed last week, Transportation Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley said angry motorists should not be directing their blame at the new Intercounty Connector, reports Megan Poinski for MarylandReporter.com.

One Maryland toll facility wasn’t named in Friday’s Sun coverage of the steep proposed toll increases by the MTA: the Gov. Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge in Southern Maryland.  The 70-year-old bridge carries U.S. 301 over the Potomac River between Charles County and Virginia, blogs Michael Dresser for the Sun.

TRASH TALKING: The General Assembly session ended last month with defeat for many of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s environmental initiatives, but he has one last chance to make a big impact — and it involves how Marylanders think of their garbage, reports Annie Linskey of the Sun.

GAS TAX UNLIKELY: Maryland State Senate President Mike Miller says it’s unlikely that a gas tax increase will pass, despite the state’s need for more transportation funding. “My prediction is, with the current uncertainty, and with the high cost of gas, we’re not going to be able to get the votes to raise the gas tax in October,” Miller said on NewsTalk with Bruce DePuyt.

GAS PRICES: In an item we missed last week on ABC’s Good Morning America, Comptroller Peter Franchot gets his 15-seconds of fame in a two-minute piece mostly about how Maryland regulates gas quality.

AIN’T FEE HIKES GRAND? There is no end to the good news our state government is bringing us, sarcastically opines the Annapolis Capital editorial board. After having increased alcohol taxes by 50% and sharply raising various fees, the state is now focusing on gouging motorists with higher tolls. Life just can’t get any better.

TEACHER RETIREMENT CHANGES: Pension changes approved by the state legislature earlier this year will increase the cost of benefits from 5% to 7% for all employees, reports Megan McKeever of the Carroll County Times. But it will only change retirement eligibility for teachers hired after July 1.

FENCE HOPPER MAKES GOOD: Sun Columnist Dan Rodricks writes about a native Mexican who hopped a border fence in 1987, worked in vegetable fields and ended up at Harvard Medical School, where he graduated cum laude. He’s now an associate professor of neurosurgery and oncology, neuroscience and molecular medicine at Hopkins, who performs more than 200 brain operations a year. As Rodricks writes, “Pretty good for a one-time fence hopper.”

REACTOR LICENSE: The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says an environmental review hasn’t found anything to prevent licensing of a third nuclear reactor at the Calvert Cliffs power plant in Lusby, according to an AP article in the Daily Record.

SAVE THE TURTLE: The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is asking recreational crabbers to make sure their crab pots have Turtle Excluder Devices, since every year it receives reports of diamondback terrapins that are trapped and drown in crab pots lacking it, according to the Salisbury Daily Times.

DEL. BOSTON DIES: Frank Boston Jr., a three-term delegate to the Maryland General Assembly from his native West Baltimore who lost a controversial state Senate bid in 1998, died Tuesday of congestive heart failure at Sinai Hospital. He was 72, reports Chris Kaltenbach for the Sun.

ROBOCALL GRAND JURY: The state prosecutor has empaneled a grand jury to hear testimony about deceptive Election Day “relax” robocalls made on behalf of former Gov. Bob Ehrlich, write Laura Vozzella and Julie Scharper for the Sun.

Vozzella was seated at a cafe table Friday morning when her dining companion was served with papers to appear before said grand jury.

NATIONAL DEBT: The national debt remains a bread-and-butter concern for many Tea Party groups in Maryland and nationwide. And those groups want to ensure that the state’s two Republican lawmakers, Reps. Andy Harris and Roscoe Bartlett, get the message, the Sun’s John Fritze reports.

DUTCH ON BIN LADEN PHOTOS: U.S. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger sits down with Pamela Wood of the Capital to talk about the photographs of slain terrorist Osama bin Laden, which he was allowed to see recently as top-ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

PUBLIC PRAYER: The Lord is no longer being invoked at Salisbury City Council meetings, though he just received a standing invitation to the gatherings of the Frederick County Commission. So goes the ever-fluctuating state of prayer at public meetings, writes Jean Marbella for the Sun.

FREDERICK PETITION FAILS: Patti Borda of the Frederick News Post reports that petitioners who sought to replace an appointed charter-writing board with an elected one have failed to get enough signatures for a special election, according to the Frederick County Board of Elections.

JOBS IN HOWARD: Pollution of the Chesapeake Bay can’t be eliminated in one summer, and there’s no apparent way to find a job for every unemployed youth in Howard County, but a faith-based county group says it has a plan to make a dent in both problems, Larry Carson reports for the Sun.

LEOPOLD AS PRIMA DONNA: Erin Cox of the Annapolis Capital offers an insightful report into Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold, through his secretary’s notebook. The article is headlined: Portrait of a political prima donna.

GENDER SUIT: The Sun’s Nicole Fuller reports that a former Anne Arundel County employee who was blocked from joining a $10 million gender discrimination and workplace retaliation lawsuit against County Exec Leopold has again asked a federal judge to consider her case.

NEW LEOPOLD UNIT: Arundel County Exec Leopold, who is the subject of an investigation by the state prosecutor’s office into whether he misused his security detail during last year’s election, has removed the officers from the detail and created a new unit to supply executive protection, Nicole Fuller writes for the Sun.

Capital columnist Eric Hartley writes that Leopold isn’t the only state official to use police as security and drivers.

APPOINTEES IN PG: Miranda Spivack and Matt Zapotosky of the Post report that Prince George’s County Exec Rushern Baker has nominated Acting Police Chief Mark Magaw and six others to head key departments in his fledgling administration, turning to several county government veterans to fill top positions.

FORMER CANDIDATE CHARGED: An Owings Mills woman who ran for Baltimore County Council and served on the county Democratic Central Committee faces felony theft and embezzlement charges, reports Bryan Sears of Patch.com.

LOCAL EDUCATION: The Sun’s Liz Bowie reports that with elected officials and parents in Baltimore County clamoring for the school system to restore 196 teaching positions next year, Superintendent Joe Hairston and county officials appear headed for a face off tomorrow over the district’s $1.3 billion budget request.

Megan McKeever of the Carroll County Times reports that while the NEA ranks the job market in Maryland as “excellent,” especially in urban settings, finding a teaching job in suburban Carroll this year will be a difficult task.

CARROLL’S SMART GROWTH: Christian Alexandersen of the Carroll County Times members of the Carroll County Board of Commissioners will discuss their recommendations that make significant changes and do away with much of the county’s previous smart growth plans in the 2010 Master Plan this week.

CANDIDATES FORUM: If you want to whet your appetite for the Baltimore mayor’s race, read this piece about a weekend candidates forum, written by Fern Shen for Baltimore Brew.

LIQUOR BOARD TRANSITION: With the flick of a pen, Gov. Martin O’Malley closed the curtains on the Worcester County Liquor Control Board, reports Jennifer Shutt for the Salisbury Daily Times. The bill’s signing was vindication for opponents of the state-run liquor wholesaler, who complained it favored some customers more than others and sold at erratic prices.