March 5, 2012

State Roundup, March 5, 2012

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LEGISLATORS TAKE UP TAX ISSUES: The Post’s Aaron Davis reports that Maryland Senate Democrats have coalesced around a plan to jettison Gov. Martin O’Malley’s array of proposed tax increases on six-figure earners in favor of a simpler, but no less controversial, across-the-board hike to Marylanders’ personal income taxes.

The Sun’s editorial board opines that the last time the General Assembly decided to take the initiative on taxes, its last-minute, seat-of-the-pants deliberations in 2007 gave the much-reviled “tech tax” (a 6% tax on computer services) that was repealed before it could even go into effect.

This year’s budget also includes a number of fee increases from cradle to grave, Michael Dresser reports in the Sun.

TAXES IN MONTGOMERY: Hayley Peterson of the Washington Examiner writes that Gov. O’Malley has proposed changes to the income tax that would cost 32% of Montgomery taxpayers an average $334 more annually, according to state budget analysts from the Department of Legislative Services. O’Malley had said the tax changes, which affect individuals earning at least $100,000, would cost a family of four making $150,000 about $191.

GAY MARRIAGE: Writing in the Huffington Post, O’Malley explains why he pushed for the same sex marriage bill that he signed into law on Thursday.

Theresa Winslow of the Annapolis Capital profiles several couples who have been together for many years and hope that Maryland’s gay marriage law will withstand a referendum push.

Columnist Jean Marbella of the Sun praises the Maryland legislature for its forward-thinking stance, while chiding Virginia for just the opposite.

WEDDING INDUSTRY GEARS UP: Lindsey Robbins of the Gazette reports that, with Maryland now poised to permit same-sex marriages come Jan. 1, those in the wedding industry are looking to cash in on new market opportunities, regardless of their viewpoint on the issue.

PROGRAM OPEN SPACE: Despite the program’s benefit for communities and environmental health, the funding stream for Program Open Space has been the topic of debate in Annapolis as delegates and senators struggled to balance the budget while providing funds for dozens of Maryland programs, reports Jennifer Shutt for the Salisbury Daily Times.

O’MALLEY KEEPS GAS TAX HIKE: The Sun’s Michael Dresser reports that, contrary to some reports put out by legislators, Gov. O’Malley is not giving up on his proposal to extend the state’s 6% sales tax to gasoline purchases to fund transportation projects.

TAX HIKE PROTEST: More than two dozen people rallied at the intersection of Baltimore National Pike and Winters Lane late Saturday morning to show their opposition to O’Malley’s proposed gas tax increase, Brian Conlin reports for the Catonsville Times.

Bethany Rodgers of the Frederick News-Post speaks with members of the Frederick delegation to Annapolis who oppose a number of the tax hike proposals, and the teacher pension shift, saying they will harm Frederick residents.

GAS PRICE HIKE: The Frederick News-Post takes to the streets to find out how gas prices may affect community.

FOOD BANK HIRE QUESTIONED: Del. Steve DeBoy has directed more than $1 million in taxpayer dollars to the Maryland Food Bank while a member of its board of directors, according to Red Maryland’s Mark Newgent. In the meantime, DeBoy’s daughter works as an events coordinator for the Food Bank, violating its own employment policies.

FINANCIAL DISCLOSURE: Legislators and eventually 12,000 to 14,000 state employees would have their financial disclosure statements posted on the Internet beginning next year if the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committee approves a bill it heard testimony on Friday, Justin Snow reports for MarylandReporter.com.

BAY POLICE BILL: The number of Natural Resources Police has at least two Eastern Shore legislators worried about protecting the Bay’s fish, crab and oyster industries from poaching, writes the Capital News Service’s Ellen Stodola in the Eastern Star-Democrat.

BEREANO SEEKS TO OVERTURN CONVICTIONS: Annapolis lobbyist Bruce Bereano is appealing a federal judge’s decision to uphold his 1994 fraud convictions, writes Steve Kilar of the Sun.

JUDGE REBUKES UM LAW CLINIC: A federal judge has called part of the testimony of the WaterKeeper Alliance’s lawsuit against Alan and Kristin Hudson “disturbing” and rebuked the University of Maryland Environmental Law Clinic, which is assisting the plaintiffs, Mark Newgent blogs for Red Maryland.

JOB GROWTH IN DISTRICT 4: District 4 congressional candidates agree that more needs to be done to spur job creation in their district, but have diverse methods for reaching that goal, Jeffrey Kyles reports for the Gazette. Incumbent Donna Edwards is being challenged by Democrats Ian Garner and George McDermott as she vies for her second term, while Republicans Randy Gearhart, Greg Holmes; Faith Loudon and Charles Shepherd square off to represent their party in the April 3 primary.

1st DISTRICT DEM FORUM: The three Democratic hopefuls running for the 1st District Congressional seat – Wendy Rosen, Kim Letke and John LaFerla – answered questions and talked about how to defeat incumbent Republican Andy Harris at a Talbot County Democratic Forum last week, writes Kelley Allen for the Easton Star Democrat.

6th DISTRICT PROFILE: Matthew Bieniek of the Cumberland Times News profiles 6th District Congressional candidate Charles Bailey, who worked his way through a night law school program to become an attorney and believes that experience distinguishes him from many of the other candidates hoping to unseat U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett.

STACHEGATE: The editorial board for the Frederick New-Post has a bit of fun over what it is calling “Stachegate,” and Bartlett’s stand on the Stache Act.

LEOPOLD INDICTED: Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold has been charged with using his taxpayer-funded police detail to help secure his re-election, run personal errands, keep his affair with a county employee private and drive him to frequent sexual rendezvous, according to the indictment handed down Friday by a grand jury, Nicole Fuller reports in the Sun.

Leopold was smiling and upbeat Saturday after eating at a diner in his hometown, part of a county he has led for more than five years and where he now faces the political and legal fight of his career, Fuller writes in the Sun.

Having pored over the indictment accusing County Executive Leopold of misusing his police detail and other misdeeds, politicians and legal experts say charges against him are not cut-and-dried, writes Erin Cox for the Annapolis Capital.

Jeff Abell of WBFF-TV speaks with Leopold about the indictment.

Jayne Miller has the story for WBAL-TV.

ON LEOPOLD: Annapolis Capital columnist Eric Hartley writes that it would be difficult for Leopold to fall back on his old “political enemies” excuses for the close-to-the-bone detail within the indictment.

If you believe the indictment, writes the editorial board for the Annapolis Capital, police officers had to be ready to put up campaign signs, chauffeur Leopold around as he ripped down his opponent’s campaign signs, compile dossiers on his political opponents, collect campaign contributions, fetch newspapers and takeout food, lend Leopold their cellphones for personal calls, shuttle him to parking-lot trysts with one of his girlfriends, work overtime to keep his girlfriends from running into each other and empty bags of his urine.

ARUNDEL COUNCIL DEADLOCK: Meanwhile, on the all-white, all-male Anne Arundel County Council, the fact it is deadlocked between a white candidate and a black candidate to replace Daryl Jones, only the second African-American to have served on the body, has been called an “embarrassment,” writes Nicole Fuller for the Sun.

ELECTION LAWS: Dels. Jon Cardin and Kathy Afazali debate her proposal for a new form of voter identification at the polls and his bill for more validation of signatures on petitions in this MarylandReporter.com video with Len Lazarick.

MO CO BAG TAX TAKE: In the first month of its controversial bag tax, Montgomery County collected $154,000, but the county executive says that number cannot yet be put into context, Kate Alexander writes for the Gazette.

PG BAG TAX POSSIBLE: And Prince George’s County could be the next jurisdiction in line in the Washington, D.C. area to add a disposable bag tax, according to an AP report in the Sun.

Lawmakers expect the bill will easily pass the county’s Senate delegation – the House delegation already passed it, writes Ben Giles for the Washington Examiner.