August 9, 2011

State Roundup, August 9, 2011

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DOWNGRADE FALLOUT: Gus Sentementes of the Sun writes that as the United States copes with the fallout of its first credit-rating downgrade, officials in Maryland are taking a wait-and-see approach on possible trickle-down effects on local governments’ finances, since Maryland is on a short list of states whose economy benefits disproportionately from federal agencies, contracts and employees.

Maryland’s loss of its top-shelf AAA rating from Standard & Poor’s and other agencies is not assured, but it’s looking much more likely, Jay Hancock writes for the Sun.

Pat Warren of WJZ-TV interviews Gov. Martin O’Malley concerning the extended forecast for Maryland’s ability to retain its Triple A bond rating.

Cecil County officials said they are keeping an eye on the situation, reports Josh Shannon for the Cecil Whig. However, he writes, they do not expect it to have any immediate impact on the county.

The price of gold is at an all-time high as people look for more secure places than stocks to keep their money after the downgrade, reports Ike Wilson of the Frederick News Post. Matt Lerner, owner of the Frederick Coin Exchange, said the price of gold has increased from $300 an ounce five years ago to a record $1,700 an ounce yesterday.

Jittery investors who bailed out of stocks poured money into U.S. Treasuries — still considered a haven in an uncertain world despite doubts raised by S&P in its credit downgrade late Friday. The buying spree pushed down Treasury yields that influence other consumer rates. Investors also abandoned commodities to rush into government bonds, and oil prices have fallen to their lowest level in months, the Sun’s Eileen Ambrose reports.

Ed Waters of the Frederick News Post reports that the treasurer of the National Association of Realtors is saying that the companies that downgraded the U.S. credit rating should be held accountable for their actions. “It is a political thing, and there is a knee-jerk reaction in the stock market,” said William Armstrong, adding that the firms had been giving that top rating while most of the mortgage loans were subprime transactions, which resulted in the real estate crisis.

Many of Baltimore’s biggest names were part of yesterday’s broad sell-off as the markets also grappled with worsening economic problems in Europe, reports Gary Haber for the Baltimore Business Journal.

CHANGE BUSINESS CLIMATE: Former Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel and former two-time candidate and state Del. Ellen Sauerbrey, who co-chair Maryland Business for Responsive Government, write in a op-ed piece in the Washington Times that whatever the economic development challenges are in a particular state, changing tax and regulatory policy will have an almost immediate effect on improving the business climate, and this is under the direct control of governors and legislators.

ARCHBISHOP TRIED TO SWAY O’MALLEY: In the days before Gov. Martin O’Malley announced his support for same-sex marriage, Archbishop Edwin O’Brien privately urged him against “promoting a goal that so deeply conflicts with your faith,” blogs Matthew Hay Brown for the Sun.

In turn, writes John Wagner of the Post, O’Malley responded, “when shortcomings in our laws bring about a result that is unjust, I have a public obligation to try to change that injustice.”

BOMB SQUAD: Gov. O’Malley will be signing an executive order to encourage regional bomb squad coordination, according to an AP story posted on WMAR-TV.

TAX-FREE GIMMICK: The editorial board for the Annapolis Capital writes that Maryland’s tax-free shopping week will help consumers, but as far as helping businesses goes, this gimmick will do more to change the timing of purchases than to boost their volume.

AIR CONDITIONING CUTS QUESTIONED: Margie Hyslop of the Gazette reports that four public utilities in Maryland are under orders to report details of what happened when they cut customers’ electricity to cope with high user demand during the height of a heat wave last month.

WHO TO BLAME: In an op-ed for the Sun, energy policy analyst William Yeatman writes that ratepayers who are steamed at BGE for turning off air conditioners in thousands of homes on the hottest day in 75 years should instead blame the government in Annapolis.

O’MALLEY MEETS POULTRY FIRM BUYER: Gov. O’Malley met with the executives from Harim Holdings of South Korea and from Allen Family Foods on Friday as Harim takes steps to finalize its purchase of the assets of Allen, the 92-year-old poultry company that declared bankruptcy in June.

CRAIG TO RUN…: Harford County Executive David Craig is noncommittal on what office he’ll pursue in the 2014 election, but said he is confident he will seek a statewide post in the executive branch — either governor or comptroller, Sarah Breitenbach reports for the Gazette.

PROBATION WORKERS OVERWORKED: Megan Poinski reports for that the head of the union for parole and probation workers says that the state’s probation officers are overworked and stretched too thin, making their vital public safety role more difficult to fulfill.

PENN NATIONAL HIRES LOBBYISTS: As it prepares to push for casino-style gambling at Rosecroft Raceway, blogs John Wagner in the Post, Penn National Gaming has beefed up its presence in Annapolis, retaining lobbyists with ties to the governor and both presiding officers of the General Assembly.

CITY CASINO OFFER: Annie Linskey of the Sun writes that Baltimore city officials are planning to sprinkle some sugar on the deal for a city casino by offering additional cash and assurances to potential developers by allowing the winning bidder to take up to $6 million from a pot of cash that was created to ease the impact of a casino on surrounding neighborhoods and apply the money to required infrastructure improvements.

OCEAN DOWNS CASINO: The editorial board for the Salisbury Daily Times writes that since its opening in January, the Casino at Ocean Downs has brought nothing but good news. Revenue has increased each month, from a per-machine “win per day” of $144.54 in January to $168.35 in June.