July 23, 2012

State Roundup, July 23, 2012

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PRINCE GEORGE’S CASINO SNAGS: John Wagner blogs in the Post that if the state legislature passes legislation that would allow a Las Vegas-style casino in Prince George’s County, state regulators could face a sticky situation long before a proposed $800 million casino run by MGM Resorts would rise at National Harbor: Do they want to give their blessing to a gaming company whose business partner’s family in China has alleged ties to organized crime?

Those “ties” are highlighted in a new TV ad campaign, launched by the Prince George’s County Contactors Association. David Collins of WBAL-TV calls the claims a stretch. You can hear his story and view the ad here.

A coalition of religious and civic leaders in Prince George’s County made a new attempt Friday to persuade state officials and County Executive Rushern Baker to abandon efforts to get gaming expansion on the November ballot, reports Miranda Spivack in the Post.

While opponents who say it’s wrong to give tax breaks to casino owners so soon after lawmakers raised income taxes on residents are ratcheting up their efforts, so is Gov. Martin O’Malley, who hopes to call a special session to end the months-long debate, Ben Giles writes in the Washington Examiner.

Greg Reinbold of the Easton Star-Democrat quotes Del. Michael Smigiel predicting, “There is no way in Maryland that the governor of Maryland is going to allow that billion dollars to not be gained while he’s sitting in office. … If you listen right now, you can hear the breaking of bones and twisting of arms to get those decisions made.”

REMAP ON THE BALLOT: A state board certified a petition Friday to put Maryland’s congressional map on the ballot, bringing to three the number of laws that will be challenged in November, according to a news brief in the Sun.

PEPCO HIKE SMALL: The state’s 530,000 Pepco residential customers will face an average increase of $2 per month. But for Pepco, the PSC decision not to give it more of a rate hike marked the second time in seven months that state officials slapped the utility for chronic poor performance, saying additional revenue to pay for overdue improvements and to compensate stockholders would have to come from somewhere other than ratepayers, report Victor Zapana and Aaron Davis in the Post.

Pepco had requested a 4% increase, which would have brought it $68 million in new revenues. Instead, the PSC only granted the utility a 1.7% increase, Megan Poinski writes for the Washington Times.

PSC NEEDS TO ACT: After the fourth massive, multi-day, weather-related power outage in the last three years, the PSC needs to do more than evaluate whether the utilities brought in enough crews to repair the damage, opines the Sun editorial board. As U.S. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger pointed out, the issue is not just what the utilities did after the electricity went out but what they can do to make sure it doesn’t go out again.

AAA BOND RATING, WITH CAVEAT: Len Lazarick of MarylandReporter.com writes that the big three New York bond rating agencies has again affirmed Maryland’s almost sacred triple-A bond rating, attributing the decades-old stamp of approval to a strong economy, high incomes, prudent fiscal management and a willingness to raise taxes. But they said state government continues to face financial challenges from its above-average pension liabilities and likely federal budget cuts, along with an increasingly sluggish economy.

TERRIBLE JOB LOSS: Maryland’s unemployment situation took a turn for the worse this spring and hasn’t bounced back, with new estimates suggesting that the state lost 11,000 jobs in June — among the worst performances in the country, reports Jamie Smith Hopkins in the Sun.

PENSIONS RETURN TO SPOTLIGHT: Rising costs and shrinking investment returns put government employee pensions back in the fiscal spotlight, opines the editorial board for the Sun.

OBAMA & DREAM ACT: Rachel Roubein of the Carroll County Times writes that activists are hoping that President Obama’s executive order will propel state residents to vote in favor of the Maryland DREAM Act, which would provide in-state college tuition to some illegal aliens.

HEALTH EXCHANGES & HOSPITAL FEES: Maryland’s former health and mental hygiene secretary is warning state officials against raising fees on hospitals to pay for Maryland‘s federally required health exchange, saying the levies will end up hurting consumers, writes Hayley Peterson for the Washington Examiner.

KAMENETZ NIXES PARTY: Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz is calling off one of the summer’s traditional hobnobbing events for politicians, lobbyists and other insiders – the Baltimore County party at the summer conference of the Maryland Association of Counties in Ocean City, writes Alison Knezevich in the Sun.

In Sunday’s Sun, Kamenetz wrote an op-ed describing Baltimore County’s efforts to restrain increases in the cost of pensions and health care benefits for retirees.

PAYDAY LOANS: Search the Internet for a storefront offering car title loans on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. There are none. Maryland law prohibits them. There soon could be payday loan companies and the like, Deborah Gates of the Salisbury Daily Times. The Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition is fighting a May 2011 U.S. House of Representatives bill the group fears, if approved, would dot the landscape with payday and car title lenders.

PROSECUTING SEX OFFENSES: Rachel Roubein of the Carroll County Times said there’s a loophole in the Maryland sexual offense statute in which part-time, temporary teachers cannot be charged with a sexual misdemeanor when engaging in consensual sexual behavior with a student 16 and older. Neither can contracted workers, such as school custodians, bus drivers and food service workers.

The most common sexual assault cases the Carroll County State’s Attorney’s Office sees involve college-aged women, who were intoxicated at the time of the assault. This makes a large amount of sexual assault cases difficult to prove, Kelcie Pegher writes in the Carroll County Times.

Local jurisdictions learn to manage those sex offenders listed on the Maryland sex offender registry. They are allowed to work any job that is not full-time employment in a school or daycare, writes Kelcie Pegher for the Carroll County Times.

ROSEN WANTS LIBERTARIAN ON BALLOT: Wendy Rosen is the Democratic candidate for Congress in Maryland’s 1st District but the Cockeysville businesswoman was busy campaigning for a Libertarian. In an e-mail, Rosen’s campaign implored supporters to sign a petition that would will help put Libertarian candidate Muir Boda on the ballot in November to take votes away from incumbent Republican Rep. Andy Harris, John Fritze reports in the Sun.

HARRIS PRO-CORPORATION: In an op-ed for the Salisbury Daily Times, Ron Pagano writes that U.S. Rep. Andy Harris supports corporation outsourcing and tax breaks in convincing the American worker that this is all in their best interests.

BARLETT TO SKIP GOP CONVENTION: U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett has become the latest incumbent in Congress to announce he will skip his party’s national convention this year to spend time campaigning for reelection, drawing a contrast with other state Republicans as well as his Democratic challenger.

O’MALLEY A TALK-SHOW STAR: It might have been back in February when he got under the skin of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” Or maybe it was in May when he went toe to toe with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” None of the analysts is sure exactly when it happened. But they all agree that sometime in 2012, Gov. O’Malley become a staple, if not a star, of Sunday morning public-affairs television, writes David Zurawik for the Sun.

WORCESTER BALKS AT POLLUTION CONTROLS: Worcester County officials maintain that plans presented by state environmental overseers to cut back on water pollution are too costly and will require more manpower than the county has available, writes Brian Shane for the Salisbury Daily Times. Strategies proposed by the state include removing more than 570 acres of impervious surfaces, like streets or parking lots; installing hundreds of acres of filtering strips and forest buffers; and upgrading nearly 2,000 septic tanks.

PEOPLE OF COLOR: David Moon of Maryland Juice attended a weekend “People of Color” summit in Montgomery County and writes about the discussions that covered politics, cross-racial coalitions and social services needs.