March 13, 2012

State Roundup, March 13, 2012

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NEW REGRESSIVE FLUSH FEE: Reporting in the Post, Greg Masters writes that what Gov. Martin O’Malley billed as a 100% increase to most Maryland residents’ “flush tax” would become a 150% increase under a new proposal his administration is discussing with lawmakers. Instead of a levy based on water consumption, O’Malley is now pushing a flat fee that would be more regressive, hitting low, middle and high-income earners nearly equally.

BUDGET HITS SENATE FLOOR: The Maryland state budget officially landed on the Senate floor last night, but the chamber is not expected to begin working on it until later in the week, Dave Collins reports at WBAL-TV.

COUNTIES ACCEPT PENSION SHIFT: A growing number of Maryland counties – including Montgomery – are seeing the writing on the wall: State legislators are going to shift some of the cost of rising teacher pensions to them. Now they are trying to soften the blow by asking their school boards to share the cost, writes Victor Zapana in the Post.

County officials say the revised proposal to gradually shift part of the cost of teacher pensions from the state to counties is better than the original plan to do it all at once, but has lots of room for improvement, Daniel Leaderman reports in the Gazette.

PENSION SOLUTION AT WHAT COST? The Sun editorial board writes that the Senate Budget Committee has found an elegant solution to the teacher pension and education funding conundrum, but does it raise income taxes too much? Much of the compromise is made possible because senators were willing to raise Maryland’s income tax rates much more broadly than the governor sought and to use that money to cushion the blow of deficit reduction on local school systems.

MORTGAGE BANK SETTLEMENT: Attorney General Doug Gansler told lawmakers yesterday that the ink was still drying on the state’s $1 billion mortgage settlement with the five major banks. He said that although the state agreed not to sue the banks, it did not give up any rights to scrutinize, regulate and pursue criminal charges for loan fraud, Doug Menefee reports for MarylandReporter.com.

COMBINED REPORTING: In an op-ed in the Sun, Bill Adams writes that the General Assembly should close the loopholes that would force some large companies to pay the income taxes that they are avoiding, and combined reporting will do it.

WATERWAYS OPENED TO SHELLFISHING: Timothy Wheeler of the Sun reports that parts of three waterways have been opened to shellfish harvesting after tests showed declines in bacteria there, the Maryland Department of the Environment announced.

VOTER REGISTRATION DEADLINE: Election officials want to remind Marylanders that the deadline to register to vote or to change party affiliation for the primary election in Maryland is 9 p.m. today, Chris Knauss reports in the Easton Star-Democrat.

ALL DRESSED UP: Someone has been dressing up the concrete cow statues in front of the Maryland Department of Agriculture for all occasions, writes Theresa Winslow in the Annapolis Capital. And it looks like no one in the Ag Department seems to mind.

CONSTELLATION SETTLEMENT: The $245 million settlement that Baltimore’s Constellation Energy Group agreed to pay is the largest of its kind to resolve allegations of market manipulation with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Hanah Cho reports in the Sun. Details of the settlement emerged yesterday, the same day Chicago-based Exelon Corp. closed on its $7.9 billion takeover of Constellation.

MARCH AND RALLY FOR LIFE: Pro-life activists came to Annapolis Monday to protest state laws that allow abortion, and to advocate changing other policies dealing with the unborn. MarylandReporter.com’s Duane Keenan filed a podcast.

OBAMA IN MD ON GAS PRICES: President Barack Obama will visit Largo on Thursday to give an address on American energy, John Fritze reports in the Sun. The address comes at a critical time, when economists say rising gasoline prices are dragging on the nation’s economic recovery and are hurting Obama’s approval rating as he heads into this year’s election.

GOP SENATE CANDIDATE FORUM: Many UM students jumped at the opportunity to challenge U.S. Republican senatorial candidates, who hope to unseat incumbent Ben Cardin, on topics ranging from foreign policy to the slow-growing national economy, writes Jim Bach in the Diamondback. The four candidates — Daniel Bongino, Daniel Broadus, Richard Douglas and Corrogan Vaughn — attended a campus forum last night.

CARDIN AD HITS AIR: Meanwhile, Sen. Cardin is launching a television campaign to bolster his reelection bid, hitting the airwaves with what his staff calls “a substantial six-figure buy,” Ben Pershing blogs in the Post. Scroll down to view his ad.

BATTLING IN THE 6TH: Democratic congressional candidate Milad Pooran will be up this week with his first television ad in Maryland’s 6th District race — a largely introductory piece that manages to take a subtle swipe at his two leading opponents, blogs John Fritze in the Sun. Scroll down to view the ad.

The campaign of financier John Delaney is attacking his foe in the Democratic primary, state Sen. Rob Garagiola, for representing a well-known Republican client during his days as a federal lobbyist, blogs the Post’s Ben Pershing. And Garagiola is hitting back with charges of his own.

David Moon of Maryland Juice is speculating on who will offer a “major endorsement” of Delaney at 12:45 this afternoon. Delaney’s camp announced the mystery endorser in a press release.

On the Republican side, Michael Sawyers of the Cumberland Times-News profiles state Sen. David Brinkley, who is running for the GOP nod to keep the 6th District in conservative hands.

2nd DISTRICT GOP RACE: Lindsey McPherson of the Columbia Flier reports that, during a forum for the 2nd Congressional District candidates, the Republicans – state Sen. Nancy Jacobs, Larry Smith, a former aide to U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, and Jessup resident Ray Bly, who has unsuccessfully ran for Congress before – seemed to agree on many things — that the government over regulates business and plays too much of a role in education.

LEOPOLD’S RESIGNATION SOUGHT: With Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold facing trial on five counts of misconduct and misappropriation, some have called on him to resign. Should that happen, filling his seat may be more difficult than expected, Allison Bourg and Earl Kelly write in the Annapolis Capital.

A group of community activists is calling for Leopold to step down amid allegations of misconduct in office, Barry Simms reports for WBAL-TV. Meghan McCorkell of WJZ-TV also reported on the activists’ protest.

FILLING COUNCIL VACANCY: Months before the Anne Arundel County Council cast more than a hundred tied votes in an attempt to replace ousted Councilman Daryl Jones, the group in charge of updating county laws was looking at ways to improve the process, Allison Bourg reports in the Annapolis Capital.

BUDGETING IN BA CO: Baltimore County is bracing for another tough budget year, delaying new construction and improvements to infrastructure while looking for other ways to save. But, writes Alison Knezevich of the Sun, County Council members and County Executive Kevin Kamenetz’s administration say they don’t plan to raise taxes to bring in more revenue.