July 20, 2011

State Roundup, July 20, 2011

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FRANCHOT PULLS STATE CENTER SUPPORT: Lorraine Mirabella of the Sun reports that Comptroller Peter Franchot has told state officials he will no longer support the proposed $1.5 billion State Center project, arguing that redevelopment of the aging state government complex in midtown Baltimore would plunge Maryland taxpayers into deeper debt and threaten the state’s fiscal health.

Daniel Sernovitz of the Baltimore Business Journal reports that Franchot wrote in a letter to the heads of the state’s transportation and real estate agencies, “I cannot and will not support further efforts to complete this project as currently proposed.”

Franchot also wrote, “… in the best of times, the proposed redevelopment of State Center would be a calculated risk with a possibility for longer-term, speculative benefits,” reports Megan Poinski for MarylandReporter.com.

Dan Rodricks looks at the project on his Midday show on WYPR-FM. You can listen to the program by scrolling down to the second hour of the July 19th section.

And Red Maryland’s Mark Newgent asserts that former O’Malley communications director Steve Kearney and his firm are partners in the project.

DEBT CEILING DEBATE HITS HOME: A leading bond rating agency is threatening to downgrade Maryland’s gold-plated credit rating because of the protracted debate over raising the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling. Maryland is one of fives states that could be hit particularly hard if Congress fails to raise the nation’s debt limit by the Aug. 2 deadline and defaults on its financial obligations, reports the Sun’s John Fritze.

Meanwhile, Fritze blogs, Maryland lawmakers in the House of Representatives split their vote along party lines yesterday on a Republican proposal to lift the debt ceiling in exchange for deep budget cuts and a constitutional amendment that would require Congress to balance the budget.

As White House and Republican leaders battle over the government’s debt limit in Washington, Midday with Dan Rodricks on WYPR-FM looks at the story with Rep. John Sarbanes, the Sun’s John Fritze, and Gazette columnist and WYPR news analyst Barry Rascovar. Scroll down to July 19th section.

ON THE DEBATE: Marta Mossburg opines in the Frederick News Post that not reaching a compromise would be catastrophic for everyone in the country, but it would particularly hurt Maryland because it is so bound to that of the federal government.

The editorial board for the Carroll County Times writes that while the Republican plans for a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget and for spending caps sound good, the real world results likely would fall far short of expectations.

OBAMA AT COLLEGE PARK: President Barack Obama will visit Maryland on Friday to hold a town hall meeting with college students at Ritchie Coliseum at the University of Maryland, College Park, as debate over the debate ceiling nears its Aug. 2 deadline.

SAME SEX MARRIAGE: Gov. Martin O’Malley is preparing to announce his intention to sponsor a same-sex marriage bill next year, according to several people familiar with the planning, the Post’s John Wagner reports.

The Baltimore City Council is considering a resolution asking the state to push for a same-sex marriage bill, reports Melinda Roederer reports for WBFF-TV.

Opinionmakers at the Frederick News Post write that if the bill is passed and conservatives bring it to referendum and get the law overturned, it could face constitutional challenges.

CONVICT PENSIONS: Stunned that former Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson draws a $49,000-a-year pension after being convicted of extorting bribes, Del. Ron George is drafting a bill to change state pension laws, writes Earl Kelly for the Annapolis Capital.

FRACKING PANEL, INFO: Gov. O’Malley has picked 14 members of a commission that was formed to study whether a gas drilling technique called “fracking” should be allowed in Western Maryland, blogs Pamela Wood of the Annapolis Capital.

In the meantime, Attorney General Doug Gansler has announced a new fracking education campaign to make sure private property owners are aware of potential pitfalls of leasing their mineral rights to drilling companies, Wood blogs.

CRABBY POLITICS: Those who attend the 35th annual J. Millard Tawes Crab & Clam Bake hoping to catch a glimpse or a handshake from a politician or two won’t be disappointed. Gov. O’Malley, Comptroller Franchot and U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin are all expected, writes the editorial board for the Salisbury Daily Times.

SCIENCE TEST SCORES UP: Maryland’s fifth- and eighth-graders scored slightly better on their annual science exam this past school year; however, the gap in performance is growing between special-education students and their peers, reports the Sun’s Liz Bowie.

BARTLETT RETIRING? U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett’s relatively low fund-raising take in the second quarter of this year landed him in a story in a Capitol Hill newspaper focused on potential House retirees. But, blogs the Sun’s John Fritze, Bartlett has never been a particularly prolific fundraiser but has nevertheless won elections with wide margins and he announced his intentions to run earlier this month.

LOCKHEED OFFERS BUYOUTS: Marjorie Censer of the Post writes that Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin is offering a voluntary layoff program for about 6,500 U.S.-based employees – about 2,000 are in the D.C. area. It’s the latest in a string of recent moves to cut jobs at the company, and comes as the Pentagon continues to push for savings from contractors.

JOHNSON’S LAST MEETING: A vocal Leslie Johnson spent her final Prince George’s County Council meeting yesterday voting on a bevy of legislation and appointments, before swiftly leaving the council dais for the last time, writes Ben Giles of the Washington Examiner.

FREDERICK WON’T PRIVATIZE NOW: The Frederick County Board of Commissioners decided to back away from a proposal to privatize many government services, but did not rule out making such a move in the future and voted unanimously to discontinue study of a report on the subject, which board President Blaine Young called a “lightning rod” of controversies and misconceptions, writes the Sun’s Raven Hill.

Commissioners said they are examining employee feedback and considering using a hybrid approach to public-private partnerships, one that would use natural workforce attrition rather than layoffs or eliminating divisions to create space for contracting, reports Bethany Rodgers for the Frederick News Post.

MO CO POLICE RIGHTS CUT: Montgomery County police officers have lost the ability to negotiate over how some management decisions will affect their jobs after the County Council voted unanimously to allow officers to continue to engage in collective bargaining over wages, benefits and some working conditions, but leave other decisions to police department management alone, Erin Cunningham of the Gazette reports.

HEALTHY MENU: Andrew Ujifusa of the Gazette reports that while healthy foods are on the menu for Montgomery County’s public school students, they could be more strongly encouraged to eat right, according to a county government report.

PROPERTY TAX CUT PLANNED: Julie Scharper of the Sun reports that Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will unveil plans today to direct nearly all of the revenue from Baltimore’s long-delayed slots casino to reducing property taxes for city homeowners.