December 16, 2011

State Roundup, December 16, 2011

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SPENDING AFFORDABILITY RECOMMENDATION: The Spending Affordability Committee voted to recommend that Gov. Martin O’Malley cut the state’s structural deficit in half during the next legislative session, using both tax increases and budget cuts, according to an AP story in the Herald-Mail.

The legislature’s chief budget analyst said that Maryland currently faces a $1 billion gap, reports The Examiner’s Brian Hughes.

Republicans on the committee unsuccessfully tried to make the recommendation to cut the deficit without tax increases, reports Len Lazarick of MarylandReporter.com.

CONSTELLATION-EXELON MERGER: Gov. Martin O’Malley gave his blessing to the merger between the two energy giants in exchange for commitments to build a new gas power plant, potentially doubling the state’s solar energy output, and seed money for a wind power, reports The Washington Post’s Aaron Davis.

LEGISLATIVE REDISTRICTING: An O’Malley spokeswoman said that the governor will release drafts of his redistricting plans for the General Assembly before Christmas, allowing for plenty of time for public comment, reports The Capital’s Earl Kelly.

With the new legislative map expected soon, Baltimore City legislators are concentrating on not losing one of their Senate seats, Sarah Breitenbach reports in the Gazette. They see a shared district with Baltimore County as possible.

MORE TROUBLE FOR ALSTON: Del. Tiffany Alston was indicted on charges of misusing taxpayer funds. This time, prosecutors charge that she used taxpayer money for the salary of an aide at her law firm, reports The Post’s Aaron Davis. Alston has charges pending that she stole campaign money to pay for her wedding, and also dipped into her campaign war chest to pay another law firm employee.

Speaker of the House Michael Busch has asked a state agency to conduct biweekly reviews of Alston’s office accounts, as well as instructed the Department of Legislative Services to verify timesheets for her legislative employees, according to an Associated Press story in The Daily Record.

Alston, a freshman delegate, is best known for her high profile flip flop on same sex marriage during the 2011 legislative session, writes David Hill of the Washington Times.

PLANMARYLAND: Planning Secretary Richard Hall said at a Planning Directors’ Rountable meeting on Thursday that PlanMaryland will be delivered to Gov. Martin O’Malley next week, according to an entry on the Maryland Association of Counties’ Conduit Street blog.

In his Gazette column, Blair Lee blasts the O’Malley administration PlanMaryland for usurping the zoning power of local jurisdictions.

HOSPITAL PROBE: Dimensions Healthcare System hired former Maryland Attorney General and federal prosecutor Stephen Sachs to investigate whether top officials at the hospital system had corrupt dealings with convicted former Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson, reports The Post’s Miranda Spivack.

STATE HOUSE TWEETUP: Gov. Martin O’Malley is planning a “tweetup” – a real life meeting of Twitter followers – for Jan. 12, reports The Sun’s Michael Dresser. Participants will be chosen at random from people who apply to attend.

ACCOUNTABILITY FOR SUBSIDIES: A new report from Good Jobs First ranks Maryland as having the nation’s fifth best job creation accountability for many subsidy programs, but it still earned a grade of C+, reports Megan Poinski of MarylandReporter.com.

MARIJUANA SPLIT: The work group examining medical marijuana for Maryland was split on whether the drug should be allowed to be distributed only by academic institutions doing research, or whether people with debilitating conditions should be able to get marijuana from pharmacies or dispensaries, reports The Capital’s Erin Cox.

ALLIANCE IS BETTER: The opinionators at The Daily Record write that the University System of Maryland Board of Regents made the right decision when they voted for a strategic alliance – and not a costly merger – between the University of Maryland’s College Park and Baltimore campuses.

TAX GIVEAWAYS: Nick Sohr of The Daily Record wrote a story that is behind the newspaper’s online paywall that talks about the unknown impact of tax subsidies. Two charts that go with that story are available for free: One that looks at whether the state knows how much the tax breaks cost, and one breaking down the percentage of tax breaks that go to different types of programs.

CORRUPT POLITICIANS: Two university professors have figured out a “corruption index” and applied it toward recent charges of political wrongdoing in Prince George’s County, Capital News Service’s Emaun Kashfipour wrote in The Sentinel.

HEART SURGERY OVERSIGHT: The Maryland Health Care Commission is considering recommending legislation asking for more oversight and standards to be put in place for hospitals offering elective cardiac surgeries, reports the Baltimore Business Journal’s Scott Dance.

ACLU ON FLASH MOB THEFT: The American Civil Liberties Union finds a bill that Del. Jeffrey Waldstreicher plans to bring to the General Assembly increasing penalties for “flash mob thefts” vague and unnecessary, reports Christa Puccio of the Montgomery County Sentinel.

COMING GENERAL ASSEMBLY ISSUES: Dels. William Frank and Stephen Lafferty told the Greater Timonium Community Council that the top three issues coming before the General Assembly in 2012 are likely to be redistricting, same-sex marriage, and a gasoline tax, reports Nick DiMarco of Patch.com.

BALTIMORE COUNTY SAME-SEX BENEFITS: Starting next month, Baltimore County will grant health benefits to same-sex spouses who were legally married in other states, reports The Sun’s Alison Knezevich.

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz’s announcement comes a month after an arbitrator’s ruling that the county should be extending the benefits to spouses of employees, writes Bryan Sears of Patch.com.

LEOPOLD GRAND JURY: Anne Arundel County Police Chief James Teare and another high-ranking police lieutenant testified Thursday before a grand jury that is investigating County Executive John Leopold, reported Erin Cox and Pamela Wood of The Capital.

IMPALLARIA CASE THROWN OUT: A lawsuit filed against a Harford County towing company by Del. Richard Impallaria – who argued that the towing company unlawfully held personal property in his vehicle and his license plates until he paid his bill – was thrown out by a Circuit Court judge, reports Kayla Bawroski of ExploreHarford.com.

NO CANDIDATES: With less than a month to file for Hagerstown city elections in 2012, the Herald-Mail’s Kate Alexander reports that no one has filed to run yet.

BALANCED APPROACH: Mark Newgent of Red Maryland gives a commentary on our “balanced approach” article, showing how state spending has never really been cut.

UNIVERSITY BRAND: After the regents rejected an outright merger, Senate President Mike Miller is still pressing for a rebranding of the University of Maryland campuses under a single name, Andrew Ujifusa reports in the Gazette.

PENSION MANAGERS: A legislative report on the state pension system questioned the fees paid to fund managers who did not outperform stock indexes, writes Steve Kelly in the Gazette.

NOTEBOOK: The Gazette’s Reporters Notebook has items on Barbara Mikulski with Meryl Streep; Robin Ficker and the gas tax; the flash mob bill; Martin O’Malley’s march; a Montgomery County wave; and the War of 1812 coins.

ALLSTON CHARGES: Del. Tiffany Alston, already accused of misusing campaign funds, has been indicted for using General Assembly money to pay an employee of her law office, Daniel Leaderman reports in the Gazette.

O’MALLEY’S MANAGEMENT: Gazette columnist Barry Rascovar argues that Gov. Martin O’Malley has not been paying enough attention to running state government, as evidenced by a long series of audits that found substantial mismanagement of state agencies.

GAS TAX: In a Gazette op-ed, Del. Herb McMillan says there a number of myths that undermine arguments for raising the gasoline tax.