May 7, 2012

State Roundup, May 7, 2012

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SESSION SET: Bryan Sears of Patch.com writes that Gov. Martin O’Malley Friday announced he will call state legislators back into session May 14 to deal with lingering state budget issues.

With the legislature’s inaction last month, more than $500 million in cuts to education, state agencies and other planned spending are scheduled to take effect July 1, a result O’Malley said that he cannot stand, writes John Wagner in the Post.

A special legislative session where income taxes will likely be raised means bad news for Maryland business, according to the Republican leader of the House of Delegates. But the state’s Democratic leadership, which holds a supermajority in the legislature, clearly feels differently, Alexander Pyles of the Daily Record writes.

Philosophically, Maryland Republicans are virtually unanimous in their opposition to calling the General Assembly back to Annapolis to raise taxes or expand gambling, writes Michael Dresser in the Sun. But strategically, they couldn’t be happier that Democrats are planning to do just that.

BETTER UNDER DOOMSDAY: Jim Joyner of the Carroll Eagle reports that Carroll County’s Delegation to Annapolis says the county would be better off under the state’s “doomsday” budget, and stands to lose some $1 million in state funding in a special session of the Maryland General Assembly.

FORGET GAMBLING: State Del. Melony Griffith, in an op-ed in the Post, proposes a different approach to solving Prince George’s budget dilemma: Forget gambling and make that county the go-to destination for quality health care in the region.

PANEL COULD DELAY GAMING VOTE: Ben Giles of the Washington Examiner reports that the commission to study the expansion of gambling in the state that Gov. O’Malley could delay efforts to have gambling issues placed on the November ballot, state officials and analysts say.

CUT & HIKES: Oz Bengur, in citybizlist.com, opines that the General Assembly needs to proceed cautiously when addressing the budget situation – both to raise taxes a little bit and targeted, but making necessary cuts.

CONSTRUCTION FUNDS: Earl Kelly, in the Capital Gazette, reports that amid the turmoil of the House and Senate failing to agree on the budget before the regular session ended, it has been easy to overlook the $1.7 billion worth of non-transportation construction projects the General Assembly did approve that reaches far and wide throughout Maryland.

PENSION LIABILITY: On June 30, 2011, the unfunded liability for the Maryland pension system was $19.7 billion, which includes $11.1 billion for teachers. This means that the pension fund is short an amount of money that approximates half of the entire annual state budget, Bruce Holstein opines in the Carroll County Times.

PENSION AGREEMENTS: In Chamber Notes for the Capital-Gazette, Bob Burdon writes that government employers should honor negotiated agreements with public-sector employees, as well as meet pension funding commitments for matching and nonmatching contributions into pension plans. But a legitimate question can be raised as to whether government employers should also assume responsibility for funding levels affected by pension board investment decisions and market performance.

REDISTRICTING LAWSUIT: More than 20 Maryland residents, including a Brunswick woman, filed a legal challenge last week to the new state legislative districts. The lawsuit submitted May 1 to the Maryland Court of Appeals argues the redistricting plan that took effect Feb. 24 minimizes the political clout of certain groups by packing some districts and underpopulating others, Bethany Rodgers writes in the Frederick News-Post.

CONTRACT QUESTIONED: A legislative audit has found that the agency that oversees the state’s health plan for those uninsured because of pre-existing conditions, paid a vendor nearly $367,000 for information technology services without proving that the contract was chosen through a competitive bidding process, reports Andrea Walker of the Sun.

WINE AT GROCERIES: Grocery chains like Wegmans and Harris Teeter are trying to find ways around the state law that prohibits wine from being sold in grocery stores, drawing pushback from Maryland’s powerful liquor lobby and package goods stores but support from consumers hoping for easier food-and-wine pairings, report the Sun’s Lorraine Mirabella and Jean Marbella.

COVERAGE DENIED: Gene Ransom of the Maryland State Medical Society writes in Center Maryland that many Marylanders with insurance still are unable to have access to quality health care, with some coverage denied.

SHORE POLS SLOW TO SOCIAL MEDIA: As more people sign up for the two social media platforms, state lawmakers in Maryland and those at the local level have begun using Facebook and Twitter to campaign and rally public support around themselves. On the Eastern Shore, however, the embrace of social networking has moved a bit slower than in more urban areas, Jennifer Shutt reports in the Salisbury Daily Times.

O’MALLEY AIDE DEPARTS: Kristen Mahoney, one of the longest-serving O’Malley aides, is leaving her job as head of the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention to take a position with the U.S. Department of Justice, reports the Sun’s Michael Dresser.

HENSON WAS “OUTREACH:” Testifying in his robocall trial on Friday, political consultant Julius Henson said he had proposed working as a general consultant with a “bold” broad-based plan to help Bob Ehrlich return to the governor’s mansion. Instead, Henson said, his designated role was “outreach” to black communities.

TEARE PAYOFF: Anne Arundel County Police Chief James Teare is hearing a lot of calls for his resignation, but he’ll get a big payoff for staying, Erin Cox reports for the Capital-Gazette. Were he to retire this month, he would get a lump sum of about $235,000. If he survives attempts by unions and politicians to oust him and keeps his post until May 2014, that sum swells to about $425,000.

ETHICS RULES IN FREDERICK: To some grumbling of the Frederick County commissioners, a recent broadening of ethics rules meant they had to disclose new details about their property holdings and business interests this past week, reports Bethany Rodgers of the Frederick News-Post.

GRANT DECISION: The editorial board of the Frederick News-Post opines that, at the moment when more people than ever in the county need help, it appears their government is deserting them, with the county commissioners’ decision to curtail government grants to nonprofits over the next two years.