December 27, 2011

State Roundup, December 27, 2011

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COMMUTER TAX CREDIT: Steve Kilar and John Fritze of the Sun report that commuter advocates and Maryland lawmakers say they will fight to renew an expiring federal tax credit that allows commuters to withhold up to $230 in pre-tax income each month that can be used to pay for train and bus fares, but the cap will fall to $125 a month next year.

92 BILLS & COUNTING: Maryland legislators had submitted 92 bills as of last week, with goals ranging from allowing table games at slots casinos to giving the Assembly voting power over toll increases, writes David Hill for the Washington Times. He adds that lawmakers are expected to submit more than 2,000 bills for the 90-day session, which begins Jan. 11.

One bill, which Del. Jeff Waldstreicher, D-Montgomery, plans to introduce would charge each member of a flash rob crew with stealing the total value of all the merchandise stolen by the group, rather than what each personally took, Brandon Cooper of CNS writes for the Easton Star Democrat.

Margie Hyslop writes in the Gazette that expanding wind power, restricting septic system use and increasing the “flush tax” are among the environmental issues Gov. Martin O’Malley is looking to put on lawmakers’ desks – again – when the General Assembly reconvenes in January.

MD FINANCIER: A Maryland financier who helped privatize the Seagirt Marine Terminal in 2009 is now trying to sell Congress on an ambitious, $250 billion plan he says would modernize the nation’s crumbling infrastructure while creating millions of jobs, writes John Fritze for the Sun.

FRANCHOT WITH A TEA? The editorial board for the Sun asks the question: “Did we miss the press release announcing that Comptroller Peter Franchot had joined the tea party? … (he) sounded like he’d gone over to the side of anti-government activism … when he cast the lone vote against a proposal at the Maryland Capital Debt Affordability Committee to accelerate some of the state’s planned borrowing in hopes of spurring the economy through infrastructure spending.”

RETURN MONEY: Maryland’s Republican Party said that a slew of Democratic elected officials, including President Barack Obama, Gov. Martin O’Malley and U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, should return campaign funds donated by Richard Stewart, who pleaded guilty last week of failing to pay $4 million in taxes, writes Annie Linskey of the Sun. Stewart also sat on the governor’s redistricting panel.

The Maryland GOP also took potshots at Gov. O’Malley for appointing Stewart to the redistricting committee, C. Benjamin Ford reports for the Gazette.

STATE REDISTRICTING: Len Lazarick of MarylandReporter.com writes that Republicans could make the same arguments against the proposed General Assembly redistricting map as blacks, asking for more proportional representation.

CONGRESSIONAL MAP A GO: In an early Christmas present to Maryland’s Democratic leaders, a three-judge federal court has rejected all arguments in a lawsuit challenging the state’s congressional district map, paving the way for Maryland to conduct its presidential primary on April 3 as planned, with a filing deadline of Jan. 11, writes Len Lazarick of MarylandReporter.com.

VOTER FRAUD: The editorial board for the Salisbury Daily Times writes that since voter fraud is not a problem, there is no need to spend time trying to fix it by instituting voter identification systems.

BAY CLEANUP PLAN: Maryland’s plan for reducing pollution flowing into the Chesapeake Bay, which was due to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by midnight Dec. 15, is likely to be revised with more detail before the federal agency decides in July whether and how to alter it, reports Margie Hyslop in SoMDNews.com.

BAY BRIDGE BUCKS: New higher tolls on the Bay Bridge netted the state about $739,000 more last month than during the same month in 2010, Scott Daugherty reports for the Annapolis Capital.

FRACKING: The editorial board for the Frederick News-Post writes that in light of uncertainty surrounding the safety of hydraulic fracking, it was a wise choice by Gov. O’Malley to issue a moratorium on the process while more study is being done.

GREAT DEPRESSION 2012? In an op-ed for the Sun, Peter Morici, a professor at the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business and former chief economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission, writes that just as the U.S. economy appears to be improving, four sets of forces could thrust America into an abyss rivaling the Depression.

PG BUDGET WOES: Miranda Spivack of the Post reports that Prince George’s County is already looking at a budget gap of more than $100 million in a $2.7 billion budget and, as the Maryland General Assembly prepares for its 430th session next month, local and state officials say that 2012 could be the year of the tax and the fee.

MOCO BUDGET WOES: Victor Zapana of the Post takes a look at Montgomery County’s budget situation and also turns up a woeful picture. That county is asking the state to “do no harm” as it heads into the 2012 General Assembly season.

NEW CIRCUIT JUDGES: The Frederick News-Post is reporting that Gov. O’Malley has appointed William Rogers Nicklas Jr. to the Frederick County Circuit Court.

John Wharton and Jason Babcock of SoMDNews.com report that St. Mary’s lawyer David Densford will be the county’s newest circuit court judge.

ETHICS IN SOMERSET: Somerset County Commissioners will hold public hearings today on a new ethics ordinance and a measure to give the county the authority to deal with stray cats, writes Liz Holland for Salisbury Daily Times.

MAYOR COHEN: Columnist Eric Hartley writes for the Annapolis Capital that, halfway through a four-year term as mayor of Annapolis, Josh Cohen is sometimes a man without a country.