July 30, 2012

State Roundup, July 30, 2012

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IT’S A SPECIAL SESSION, AGAIN: Bryan Sears of Patch.com reports that Gov. Martin O’Malley Friday announced he will call the General Assembly back to Annapolis for a special session on the issues of gambling and the creation of a sixth casino. “This is an issue about jobs,” Gov. O’Malley said. “This is an issue about maximizing revenues from gaming.”

An O’Malley-backed bill that will be introduced in the session will include language that makes clear it is the General Assembly’s intent that regulators issue a license for a Prince George’s casino only if a majority of county voters back it in a statewide referendum, writes the Post’s John Wagner.

One earlier sticking point with the gambling expansion bill – over lowering the tax rate on slot machine revenues from 67% to 52% — seems to have been resolved, reports Greg Reinbold in the Easton Star-Democrat. “The tax rate would remain the same until the citizens make a decision about whether there would be a sixth site,” O’Malley said.

Republicans were quick to criticize the session, writes John Wagner of the Post. “The harrowing pressure cooker of a get-it-done-quick special session is not the place to debate an issue as complex as the expansion of gaming in Maryland,” said a joint statement from House Minority Leader Anthony O’Donnell and Minority Whip Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio.

But Republican Sen. George Edwards said that while the state may be running behind, the time to get the job done is now, finally, writes Matthew Bieniek for the Cumberland Times News. “It costs more taxpayer dollars to call a special session. I hope they have their ducks in a row and it takes only two days.”

David Moon at Maryland Juice embeds a commercial that Gov. O’Malley recorded in which he explains his decision to call the session. Scroll down his page to see it.

BETS ON GAMBLING A RISK: O’Malley is banking that a Prince George’s County casino and blackjack throughout the state will lead to massive gambling windfalls that will plug soaring budget gaps. But, writes Brian Hughes for the Washington Examiner, that’s hardly a safe bet, according to analysts who reviewed similar gambling initiatives across the nation.

And, writes Alexander Pyles for the Daily Record, while officials representing potential National Harbor casino developer MGM Resorts International Inc. wore smiles behind O’Malley as he announced a special legislative session on gambling, David Cordish, the operator of Maryland’s largest casino fumed. In an email he wrote, “Oversaturation is real. Maryland Live has been partially open for two months, and even in its unfinished state, it has decreased the revenue in Perryville almost 25 percent.”

Del. Heather Mizeur, in an op-ed in the Washington Post, asks: Why the rush to make Maryland the next Atlantic City? Powerful gaming interests want you to believe that this is our only hope for new jobs in this difficult economy. We know better.

BGE SEEKS RATE HIKE: Nayana Davis of Patch.com writes that BGE has asked the Public Service Commission permission to raise its rates. The typical residential gas bill would increase by $4.62 a month and the typical electric bill would increase by $7.22. The company said this would amount to a 4.4% increase.

Consumer advocates are balking at the request, Steve Kilar writes in the Sun. Companies such as BGE should find other sources of income to strengthen their grid and invest in cost-cutting technologies before requesting rate increases, said Jenny Levin, state advocate for the Maryland Public Interest Research Foundation, a consumer advocacy group.

The hike “goes directly to the pipes, the wires, the poles, the underground cables,” said BGE Spokesman Bob Gould, Derek Valcourt reports for WJZ-TV.

The editorial board for the Sun says that while BGE’s timing in asking for a rate hike has been off in the past, this may just be the right time to give it to the company, if it adds that much needed improved infrastructure.

O’M REQUESTS DISASTER AID: Meanwhile, Gov. O’Malley has requested a presidential disaster declaration for six jurisdictions in Maryland in the wake of the derecho storms that swept across the region last month, John Wagner blogs in the Post.

DREAM ACT RALLY: Larry Luxner of the Baltimore Post-Examiner writes that undocumented teenagers among others rallied for the Maryland DREAM Act last week, asking voters to uphold the law that will allow some of them to have instate tuition.

MORE PENSION TENSION: Maryland’s $37 billion state retirement and pension system for employees and teachers earned only .36% on its investments in the fiscal year that ended June 30, far below the 7.75% that is the system’s target, writes Len Lazarick for MarylandReporter.com.

SUPER LOWERY: Lillian Lowery, the state’s new school superintendent, gave the impression of a thoughtful, experienced leader who understood the complexity of the issues involved and the need to build a broad consensus on how to move the system forward. But she is also clearly someone who wasn’t afraid of a fight if that’s what the job requires, opines the editorial board for the Sun.

ADDRESS GUN CONTROL: In the wake of the massacre at a midnight movie in Aurora, Colo., and an arrest Thursday in Silver Spring, Md., that authorities believe may have prevented a copycat shooting – people are again talking about gun control. It’s an issue that needs to be addressed, opines the editorial board of the Salisbury Daily Times.

BLOCK GUN RULING: The Maryland attorney general’s office has asked the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals to block a lower court’s ruling that would drastically increase the number of people eligible to carry concealed firearms in the state, Tricia Bishop reports in the Sun.

UPDATING TANNING BED LAWS: The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene wants public input on updating tanning bed regulations, which require anyone under 18 to have permission from a parent or guardian before using a tanning bed, writes Andrea Walker in the Sun.

DELANEY HEADS TO ISRAEL: Ben Pershing of the Post blogs that Maryland congressional candidate John Delaney will soon be heading to Israel in a trip that may be designed to help with a key constituency back home in the newly redrawn 6th Congressional District that includes a significant swatch of Montgomery County.

HARRIS TOUTS DEFENSE SPENDING: U.S. Rep. Andy Harris visited a defense technology contractor in Elkton Friday, saying that cuts to the defense budget will harm the country but that Medicare and Social Security need to be reformed.

BOB AND KENDEL SHOW: Repeating that “there are few politicians who have less of a sense as to what makes for a winning TV persona than Ehrlich,” David Zurawik, media critic for the Sun, tears apart new Bob and Kendel Ehrlich’s 30-minute paid political program for its ideological self-importance and WMAR-TV’s airing of the program with the station’s logo as a backdrop. Be sure to scroll down to the reader comments, where Zurawik has to take as well as he gives.

CARE ACT SCAMMERS: The Anne Arundel County Department of Aging and Disabilities has joined with the Federal Trade Commission to issue a warning about scammers exploiting the Affordable Care Act, according to a report in the Capital-Gazette.

TOLLIVER RETURNS: Ben Weathers of the Capital-Gazette profiles incoming Arundel County Police Chief Larry Tolliver. Throughout his law enforcement career Tolliver championed a hands-on style of policing by going on ride-alongs with the rank and file and showing up unannounced at district stations. Tolliver intends to lead in the same manner.

Six weeks after Tolliver begins the $145,000-a-year job, his new boss, Arundel County Executive John Leopold, will stand trial on allegations he used a police security detail for personal and political gain, write Andrea Siegel and Erin Cox for the Sun.

MARY WILLIAMS REMEMBERED: Former colleagues remember Mary Williams, the first woman elected to the Frederick County Commissioners. She died Thursday at age 82, writes Ike Wilson for the Frederick News Post.