May 15, 2012

State Roundup, May 15, 2012

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TAXES FIRST: Maryland’s General Assembly yesterday raced to approve a package of tax increases on six-figure earners, commercial real estate deals, tobacco products and even death certificates, pleasing unions and advocates for the poor but drawing protests from minority Republicans, report John Wagner and Aaron Davis of the Post.

The carefully choreographed strategy to raise state income taxes to stave off so-called doomsday budget cuts faces a challenge in the General Assembly after several Democrats defied party leaders with a proposal to raise the sales tax instead, Annie Linskey and Michael Dresser write for the Sun.

Proposals would stave off more than $436 million in cuts that under the current budget would take effect starting in July, reports Bethany Rodgers of the Frederick News-Post. Much of the reductions would hit education funding, and Frederick County Public Schools would see a $6.4 million cut, according to local estimates.

The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee passed a budget plan that would undo the so-called “doomsday” cuts, reports Danielle Gaines for the Gazette. Democratic leaders anticipate two budget bills will be voted on by both chambers by tomorrow.

Ben Giles of the Washington Examiner writes that 40% of the money raised from the tax increase would come from Montgomery County, where 23% of earners would pay more. Overall, nearly 14% of state residents would pay higher taxes, with 9.5% of Prince George’s County residents paying extra, according to a fiscal analysis.

In all, the package would cut more than $300 million from the budget proposed in January by Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, but would increase spending by more than $900 million over last year’s approved spending plan, reports David Hill of the Washington Times.

Pamela Wood of the Capital-Gazette writes that Del. Tony O’Donnell, minority leader of the House of Delegates, said, “It’s time to be straight up with the citizens of Maryland. We’re coming here to raise their taxes – plain and simple.”

Former Sen. David Harrington and blogger David Moon of Maryland Juice appeared on News Channel 8’s News Talk show to discuss the special session and what caused it. Harrington blames the gambling issue. The discussion begins around the 1 minute mark on the video.

RECORDING TAX: A little noticed provision will also raise $36 million in new taxes from companies that back mortgages on commercial development and homebuilding, reports Len Lazarick of MarylandReporter.com. Opponents say it will add to the cost of construction and harm Maryland’s business rankings.

SESSION REACTION: Comptroller Peter Franchot threw cold water on the efforts of fellow Democratic leaders in Annapolis, calling plans to raise taxes in a special session “simply the wrong approach at the wrong time.”

Daniel Leaderman reports on Republican reaction to the special session.

Dave Collins of WBAL-TV reports that a handful of people protested tax hikes and the special session in general in the rain.

Daniel Menefee of the Chestertown Spy reports that Sen. E.J. Pipken says there is a lack of transparency for allowing public comment on the budget proposal.

Duane Keenan produced two three-minute podcasts for MarylandReporter.com. First, hear from Michelle Jefferson from We the People Carroll County. She came to Annapolis to protest the special session.

The second features Senate President Mike Miller, who says, “It would have been nice if we could have got it done in the 90-day session.” But House Republican Leader Tony O’Donnell said, “There is no way that we should be here.”

In an op-ed in the Washington Times, Larry Hogan, a former state Cabinet secretary and head of ChangeMaryland.org, compares the special session now under way to a blockbuster summer sequel: costly, with the same cast and predictable.

PIT BULL BILLS: Dog lovers shouldn’t look to the General Assembly to give them a bone, as legislation overturning court ruling that designated pit bulls as dangerous animals was locked in the House rules committee yesterday morning, writes the Sun’s Annie Linskey.

On the first day of what is expected to be a three-day special session, no fewer than five bills were introduced in response to a recent court ruling that makes it easier to sue owners of aggressive pit bulls, even if their dogs have no prior history of biting, John Wagner blogs in the Post.

And pit bull advocates will be in Annapolis today at 2:30 p.m. to rally for the breed, reports WMAR-TV.

SEPTIC REGULATIONS: During debate yesterday, senators criticized regulations proposed by the Maryland Department of the Environment that would require the use of best available technology for nitrogen removal septic systems in new construction near the Chesapeake Bay or Atlantic Coastal Bays watershed, the AP’s Brian Witte reports in the Salisbury Daily Times.

FINANCIAL ABUSE OF ELDERLY: Starting in October, Maryland banks and credit unions will be required to report suspected financial exploitation of Marylanders age 65 and up, writes Eileen Ambrose in the Sun. They must convey their suspicions within 24 hours by phone to one of two agencies then follow up in writing. Financial institutions that fail to do so will face a penalty of as much as $5,000.

WEGMANS LIQUOR STORE: The combination of ownership and location of a proposed liquor store at the Wegmans grocery store in Columbia skirts Maryland law, opponents say, and raises questions about whether the store should be allowed, writes David Greisman for the Howard County Times.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE EXPERIMENT: Adam Bednar, writing for Patch.com, offers up a Salon story on U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes, who is running an interesting experiment during this year’s election. He’s trying to see if primarily small donors can finance his campaign as part of his Grassroots Donors project, where he has raised $500,000 from traditional donations of more than $100, but can’t access it until he receives at least 1,000 donations between $5 and $100.

UNCERTAINTY FACTOR: Don Aines of the Hagerstown Herald-Mail writes that U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, in an interview with that paper’s editorial board, said that uncertainty is holding back the economy and Washington is largely in gridlock, situations that are unlikely to be resolved before the presidential election in November.

NEW DISTRICT JUDGE: John Fritze of the Sun reports that the U.S. Senate confirmed Baltimore Circuit Judge George Russell for a seat on the U.S. District Court for Maryland yesterday.

OVERCROWDING: Baltimore County parents and legislators will ask incoming schools Superintendent Dallas Dance to consider putting more teachers in high schools, where class sizes have swelled since positions were eliminated a year ago, Liz Bowie reports in the Sun.

The Sun editorial board says the results of former Baltimore County Schools Super Joe Hairston’s poor decision to cut teachers from high schools are now clear: A sharp drop in the number of classes available to students (including Advanced Placement courses), increasing class sizes and overtaxed facilities.

IGNORING ETHICS RULE: The Sun editorial board writes that it believes that Frederick County Commissioner Kirby Delauter was correct to chose to ignore a county ethics commission’s opinion directing his construction firm to stop doing business in the county.

  • Frank Van

    Only “16%” of the Maryland tax payers are being effected???
    This is more like 35% or more since 50% of Maryalnds
    ‘s citizens does not pay tax at all.  In montgomery County it will approach more than 50% of the citizens in addition to the already heavy county taxes.  There is no “Cost of Living” adjustment.
    Why stay if you get hit up all the time and on top of it if you are then seen as “filthy rich?”.  Thank you a lot.
    A cut of $300 million form the budget???? What a crock.  Spending still goes up $900 million, in addition tot he hidden increases in several other budgets.
    When do we learn.