May 23, 2011

State Roundup, May 23, 2011

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LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE: Sun columnist Dan Rodricks writes about what he calls Gov. Martin O’Malley’s calculated indifference toward parole after he refused to sign a bill into law that that would force him to deal with lifers approved for release.

NAZI TRAIN DISCLOSURE: Calling it “a blunt instrument,” editorialists for the Washington Post say that a bill signed Thursday by O’Malley that would force rail companies to disclose their Nazi history before getting a contract with Maryland is bizarre, illogical and possibly self-defeating; it is testament to the absence of rational discourse in public disputes related to the Holocaust.

GENEROUS JUDGE PENSION SAFE: While the governor and legislature this year raised what state workers and teachers pay into their pension plans and cut benefits for future employees, the state’s most generous retirement plan survived completely unscathed – the pensions for judges, reports Megan Poinski of MarylandReporter.com.

ANTI-DREAM ACT SUPPORT: With less than 10 days to until a critical first deadline on an effort to repeal in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, organizers say they’ve seen bipartisan support for the effort, reporting that Democrats account for about one-quarter of the people who have downloaded the petition online, blogs Julie Bykowicz for the Sun.

WINE UP, WINE DOWN: Attendees of the weekend’s 19th annual Wine in the Woods event in Howard County are pleased that Maryland law will soon allow them to order wine directly from out-of-state wineries but are not happy about the tax increase imposed on state liquor sales that some wine drinkers say will hit them the hardest, writes Susan Reimer of the Sun.

BUMPER PAD BAN: Maryland could become the first state in the nation to ban the sale of bumper pads that line the inside of cribs after a state panel recommended that health officials declare them a hazard because they can suffocate or strangle babies, Andrea Walker reports for the Sun.

DELAYS IMPERIL FUNDING: The Sun editorial board writes that state school officials are behind in implementing sweeping changes in teacher evaluations, and further delays could jeopardize the $250 million in additional U.S. Department of Ed funding so many people, from retiring Superintendent Nancy Grasmick and Gov. O’Malley on down, worked hard to get.

ANTI-BULLYING CAMPAIGN: Tim Tooten of WBAL-TV reports that Gov. and Katie O’Malley have recorded a PSA to combat bullying in public schools.

RACING’S FUTURE: Maryland’s horse racing problem is simple, reports Scott Daugherty for the Annapolis Capital: People flock to Pimlico for Preakness, but stay away the other 364 days of the year.

Myranda Stephens of WBFF-TV reports why many still have concerns about the future of Preakness and horse racing in Maryland.

The Sun’s Julie Bykowicz blogs that even horse racing’s staunchest advocate in Annapolis, Senate President Mike Miller, acknowledges that it is deeply troubled. “It has been a disaster for the state of Maryland, a total, unmitigated disaster,” Miller said of racing’s course over the past decade.

WYPR-FM does a long piece on racing’s future, complete with video at the top.

JOB GROWTH: Maryland employers added 11,600 more jobs in April, write Jamie Smith Hopkins and Lorraine Mirabella, after six months in which the state lost 6,300 jobs in total.

Overall, Maryland’s private sector employers created 16,400 jobs in April, tempered by the loss of 4,800 government jobs, reports Michael Neibauer for the Baltimore Business Journal.

GAS PRICE DIP: Gas prices appear to be declining ahead of the Memorial Day travel weekend for parts of the mid-Atlantic, according to an AP report at WJZ-TV.

HIKE GAS TAX: The Sun editorial board writes that a proposed gas tax increase may be unpopular with the electorate, but alternatives for meeting Maryland’s transportation needs are worse.

EHRLICH IN POLITICS: Former Gov. Bob Ehrlich is diving enthusiastically into plans for his second act, writes Joseph Weber of the Washington Times. He hopes to be a major influence on national politics and conservative causes through a book, a proposed syndicated radio show and his new job at a high-profile international Washington law firm.

REPORTER SMACKDOWN: Steve Lebowitz of the Daily Kos blasts the above writer, calling his piece on Ehrlich a “lapdog story” for failing to mention Ehrlich’s problems that included voter suppression robocalls, mysterious campaign payments to a commodities firm owned by his friend and grand juries investigating his campaign

CONSTELLATION MERGER: Ben Mook of the Daily Record reports that Constellation Energy Group Inc. and Exelon Corp. are moving ahead with their planned merger and have filed applications with all regulatory bodies except the Maryland Public Service Commission.

HUGE SOLAR PROJECT: A private firm announced a $70 million plan to build Maryland’s largest solar energy project on the grounds of a state prison near Hagerstown to generate electricity for the wholesale market, according to an AP story in the Daily Record.

MIKULSKI’S MISSION: Like other Democrats in Congress, Sen. Barbara Mikulski is battling Republican budget cuts and working to bring home federal money for her state. But as the 2012 election nears, Maryland’s senior senator is also playing a role in national politics: helping to elect more women to Congress, John Fritze reports for the Sun.

JOHNSON DOCUMENTS: In a detailed article for the Washington Post, Paul Schwartzman reports that prosecutors unsealed a treasure-trove of documents that detail how former Prince George’s County Exec Jack Johnson used his office to enrich himself, his friends and his wife, Leslie. The documents shed light on a long-term corruption case that that could implicate county administration officials, political candidates and members of the County Council and school board.

REDISTRICTING FREDERICK: Frederick County takes a breath as House Speaker Michael Busch promises that the upcoming redistricting process will turn the county “colbalt blue,” opines the editorial board for the Frederick News Post.

FREDERICK PETITION: Seven people involved in the charter-writing board special election petition want the Frederick County Circuit Court to review the rejection of their petition by elections officials, reports Meg Tully for the Frederick News Post.

FREDERICK DEVELOPMENT RIGHTS: Frederick County property owners will soon have the opportunity to ask commissioners to restore development rights the previous board took away last year, Katherine Heerbrandt writes for the Gazette.

CARROLL REVENUE DROP: Christian Alexandersen of the Carroll County Times reports that, while Carroll County government reaped the benefits of soaring property values during the housing boom, the downturn in the economy has left the county collecting less money as housing values drop.

ARUNDEL BUDGET CUTS: Erin Cox of the Annapolis Capital reports that, in a contentious session that lasted until midnight Friday, Arundel county lawmakers carved $19 million out of the county’s $1.2 billion spending plan – about $9 million short of the sum required to avoid a property tax increase.

County Auditor Teresa Sutherland had warned lawmakers Thursday the county’s finances are “unsustainable” and that nixing a proposed 3-cent property tax increase would have an $80 million ripple effect over the next four years, Cox also reports for the Capital.