December 14, 2011

State Roundup, December 14, 2011

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SHA IRREGULARITIES: Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley told state lawmakers yesterday that internal auditors knew about some irregularities in the awarding of contracts by the State Highway Administration but didn’t raise an alarm, Michael Dresser reports for the Sun.

One state senator worries the SHA’s bad spending habits have spilled over into other state transportation agencies, Jeff Barnd reports for WBFF-TV.

All contracts and changes to them are supposed to be first approved by the Board of Public Works, chaired by the governor. Auditors found that contracts were routinely extended and changed, and funds moved to other projects, without board approval, writes Megan Poinski of MarylandReporter.com.

HEADS SHOULD ROLL: Columnist Marta Mossburg writes in the Frederick News-Post that all those state audits that continue to discover and report malfeasance in the same agency are toothless unless agency heads are held criminally responsible for defrauding taxpayers.

PENSIONS UP: The Maryland pension system had a good year in fiscal 2011, earning 20% on its investments — up from 14% in 2010 — and giving it $37.6 billion in assets, reports Len Lazarick for MarylandReporter.com.

MIDDLING IN HEALTH: Maryland ranks 22nd among all states in overall health as it residents suffered with obesity, high infant mortality and other issues, according to new rankings, Andrea Walker reports for the Sun.

Prince George’s ranks as one of Maryland’s most unhealthy counties, while Montgomery County is considered the second healthiest in the state, Ben Giles reports for the Washington Examiner.

SAME SEX MARRIAGE: With same-sex marriage proponents pushing to get a marriage equality bill passed in the General Assembly in January 2012, and with Gov. Martin O’Malley’s announcement that he would sponsor such a bill, same-sex marriage could end up alongside the Dream Act for voter referendum on the 2012 ballot. Dan Rodricks addresses the issue with a number of news reporters. Scroll down to the First Hour of Tuesday, Dec. 13 and click on the audio link.

BEREANO IN ANNAPOLIS: Annapolis lobbyist Bruce Bereano will go into the 2012 legislative session next month with ethics charges safely behind him, writes Michael Dresser for the Sun.

ILLEGALS’ AMNESTY: State Del. Pat McDonough, in an op-ed for the Sun, berates the Obama administration for mandating federal law enforcement to only prosecute the 10% of illegal aliens who commit serious crimes like rape, murder, drug dealing and other Level I infractions, and calls Baltimore “Amnesty City” since the Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake jumped on the bandwagon.

TOBACCO TAX: A proponent of increasing Maryland’s tax on cigarettes doesn’t expect the proposal to get much support in the 2012 General Assembly, but he hopes lawmakers will see fit to raise the cost of cigars and other tobacco products, Sarah Breitenbach reports for the Gazette.

CORRUPTION: Josh Kurtz of Center Maryland takes the look at the culture of corruption in Maryland politics. Meanwhile, Mark Newgent of Red Maryland takes a look at Kurtz’ column, offers his own view, then some reforms.

VOTER FRAUD: U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin said he will unveil legislation today to impose criminal and civil penalties for those who distribute false voting information before an election, John Fritze blogs for the Sun.

BRINKLEY’S PLAN: David Brinkley, a Republican state lawmaker considering a run for Congress in Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, said a key Senate colleague, Chris Shank, would serve as a county campaign chair if he decides to formally enter the race, blogs John Fritze for the Sun.

MIDDLE INCOME TAX: Maryland Juice runs a press release from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that states: This evening, Representative Roscoe Bartlett (MD-06) voted to force a $1,000 payroll tax hike on 3.2 million middle income Maryland families and raise Medicare premiums for seniors instead of ending tax breaks for billionaires. While voting for higher Medicare premiums for seniors in retirement, Bartlett even voted against cutting his own Congressional retirement pension.

O’DONNELL CHALLENGES HOYER: Maryland House Minority Leader Anthony O’Donnell (R-Calvert) plans to launch an uphill bid today for the 5th Congressional District in which he will argue that long-time incumbent Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is part of what’s wrong with Washington, John Wagner and Aaron Davis blogs for the Post.

SARBANES FINANCE CURBS: U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes has announced self-imposed campaign finance restrictions, Maryland Juice is reporting.

MINNICK SELLS BAR: State Del. Sonny Minnick and his family have quit the tavern business after 20 years, selling their liquor license shortly before the lawmaker’s brother faces trial on gambling charges in connection with video machine payouts at the Dundalk establishment, Arthur Hirsch reports for the Sun.

JONES COMMITTED: Taking the podium at Monday night’s meeting of the African American Leadership Forum, Anne Arundel County Councilman Daryl Jones never directly referred to his legal troubles, but he did say that he remains committed to the county even as he gets ready to serve five months in prison for not paying his taxes, Allison Bourg reports for the Annapolis Capital.

MOCO BUDGET GAP: Montgomery County officials expect a $135 million budget gap next fiscal year — assuming the county doesn’t raise salaries for any employees across county government, public schools, Montgomery College or the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Rachel Baye reports for the Washington Examiner.

PANHANDLING: Allegany County Sheriff Craig Robertson hopes an amendment to state law will help police tackle the panhandling problem in the area, and is asking county commissioners to get behind a request to the local delegation to take action, Matthew Bieniek reports for the Cumberland Times-News.

HOWARD REDISTRICTING: Unless their community is at risk of being shifted to a new district, most people have no interest in the Howard County Council redistricting process. But that wasn’t the case for Ellicott City resident Frank Hecker, who turned his blogs into an e-book, writes Lindsey McPherson for the Howard County Times.

TALBOT LIQUOR REGS: With the Talbot County Council preparing to officially consider a rewrite of alcohol regulations, two state lawmakers opposed to the proposal threatened to review the council’s authority to control liquor licenses, Daniel Divilio writes for the Easton Star Democrat.