December 14, 2012

State Roundup, December 14, 2012

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DEATH PENALTY REPEAL: Benjamin Jealous, the president of the NAACP, is confident that Gov. Martin O’Malley will be “standing with us” in a bid to repeal Maryland’s death penalty in the coming legislative session, writes John Wagner of the Post.

William Lori, the archbishop of Baltimore, pledged in a letter last week to Gov. O’Malley to enlist the Catholic Church in the effort to “end state executions in Maryland once and for all” during the upcoming session of the General Assembly, reports the Post’s John Wagner.

Politically, writes Annie Linskey in the Sun, repeal of the death penalty could be a way to bring together two powerful constituencies that were split on legalizing same-sex marriage: blacks and Catholics.

STATE BUDGET: A Maryland legislative panel agreed in concept yesterday to cut another $200 million from the state budget in the coming year, a move that analysts said would all but wipe out a “structural gap” that was projected at $2 billion just two years ago, reports John Wagner of the Post.

In its final action, the panel also approved a state employment ceiling of 79,626 positions, a few hundred more than last year, reports Len Lazarick of MarylandReporter.com. State employees have actually declined over the last decade, down 10% (5,700 jobs) in executive branch agencies, but up by 3,300 positions at state colleges and universities.

For the first time since a recession gripped the country in 2008, Maryland is approaching a General Assembly session with good fiscal news: Neither tax increases nor drastic budget cuts are likely to be needed to balance the budget, the Sun’s Annie Linskey and Michael Dresser report.

COURT ON ALSTON SEAT: Maryland’s highest court will decide on how to fill a seat in the House of Delegates after a lawmaker was convicted of misconduct in office, according to an AP story in the Sun.

HARFORD MARRIAGE LICENSES: The Harford County Clerk of the Circuit Court’s office is now equipped to start accepting applications for same-sex marriage licenses, but none has come in yet, Bryna Zumer writes in the Aegis.

WA CO LOOKS OVER FISCAL CLIFF: With the fiscal cliff less than three weeks away, one Washington County bank is accelerating its dividend payments, and a local business poised to hire more people is holding off to see what happens at the start of the year, reports Caleb Calhoun of the Hagerstown Herald Mail.

BUSINESS CLIMATE RANKINGS: Steve Contorno of the Washington Examiner writes that Forbes magazine ranks Virginia one of the top states for business thanks to its relaxed regulatory climate, while neighboring Maryland finished 16th – up from 19th.

TAX MIGRATION: The editorial board of the Washington Examiner is picking up the drumbeat in the call to ask the IRS to keep issuing tax migration statistics, following Change Maryland’s summer report that said wealthy Marylanders are fleeing the state for less taxes in nearby Virginia.

TAYLOR VS. SARBANES? Former Del. Herman Taylor, who left the Maryland House to run for Congress in a Democratic Primary against Rep. Donna Edwards, may be thinking about running again, writes David Moon in Maryland Juice. He is holding a funder and the invitation asks people to consider a contribution to his “campaign efforts.”

GRASSO EXEC RUN: Anne Arundel County Councilman John Grasso announced his candidacy for county executive two years ahead of the 2014 election in hopes that the extended campaign will give voters time to “build up a tab of likes and dislikes of John Grasso,” the Sun’s Erin Cox writes.

PENSION ERRORS: Anne Arundel County’s auditor testified yesterday about the discovery that four county employees, who had retired but returned to work part-time, had erroneously received pension payouts as if they were fully retired. Allison Bourg of the Capital-Gazette reports on the hearing.

LAND USE IN HOWARD: Howard County Executive Ken Ulman yesterday vetoed County Council legislation designating land preservation areas in the county, saying the council’s plan did not go far enough to preserve land, writes Blair Ames of the Howard County Times.

SUN SALE: The possibility that the Tribune Co. will sell its newspapers after an imminent exit from bankruptcy has set off a new round of speculation about The Baltimore Sun’s future ownership — along with expressions of interest from potential buyers, reports the Sun’s Jamie Smith Hopkins.

2013 LEGISLATURE: After a whirlwind 2012 regular session of the Maryland General Assembly, some legislators say they are looking forward to a less-frantic pace for the 2013 session, reports Holly Nunn in the Gazette. “I’m expecting a session of good vibes and warm feelings,” said Sen. Jamie B. Raskin. “We’ve just left behind a period of budget battles and tough, socially divisive issues.”

Nunn also writes that Gov. Martin O’Malley is likely to continue pushing a progressive agenda, rather than rest on his past accomplishments.

FRANCHOT: The Gazette’s Benjamin Ford interviews Comptroller Peter Franchot on his decision not to run for governor, and examines the 2014 contests for governor and comptroller.

Barry Rascovar’s column in the Gazette assesses Franchot’s role as contrarian in chief.

NOTEBOOK: This week’s Reporters Notebook in the Gazette has items on O’Malley’s travel spending; a beetle invasion; the health benefit exchange; Bill Ferguson’s trashed car; and Maryland’s health rankings.

JUVENILE SENTENCING: Concerned that individuals from low-income communities or unstable families are receiving harsher criminal sentences as adults, the Maryland Office of the Public Defender wants state sentencing guidelines to take into account more about offenders’ juvenile records, writes The Gazette’s Holly Nunn.

NEUTERING FUND: A fee charged to pet food companies soon could subsidize a fund for spaying and neutering pets, Holly Nunn reports in the Gazette. A state task force looking to establish such a fund plans to propose a bill in the upcoming session to raise the pet food brand registration fee from $50 to $150.