February 6, 2013

State Roundup, February 6, 2013

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BANKRUPT BALTIMORE: The Baltimore City government is on a path to financial ruin and must enact major reforms to stave off bankruptcy, according to a 10-year forecast the city commissioned from an outside firm. The report shows that the city will accumulate $745 million in budget deficits over the next decade because of a widening gap between projected revenues and expenditures, according to an AP report published at WBFF-TV. Here’s WMAR-TV’s report by Linda So.

TUG OF WAR OVER GUNS:In the wake of the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Gov. Martin O’Malley was quick to propose a package of gun-control legislation that would ban assault weapons and create some of the nation’s strictest gun-licensing requirements, Aaron Davis reports in the Post. But now his proposal is caught in a tug of war between members of his own party that some fear could threaten its chances of passage.

ANTI-GUN CONTROL RALLY: An anti-gun control rally will be held outside the State House hours before Gov. O’Malley is scheduled to promote his gun control bill today, report Pamela Wood and Alex Jackson. The Department of General Services expects 3,000 at the rally, called “Holding the Line: Securing Our Firearms Rights in Maryland.” It is scheduled for 11 a.m.

CHANGE FOCUS FROM GUNS: Dels. Kathy Afzali and Kelly Schulz are working with other conservative women in the House of Delegates to shift attention from the gun debate to what they believe are the real problems underlying violence, Bethany Rodgers is reporting in the Frederick News-Post. Funding mental health services and dealing with drug abuse in schools are part of the answers to these problems, they say.

MILLER TRANSPORTATION PLAN: A transportation funding proposal from the president of the Maryland Senate not only would impose a 3% sales tax on gasoline, but also calls for an automatic, 5-cents-per-gallon gas tax that could be controlled by the counties or the state, Daniel Leaderman of the Gazette reports.

The day after the formal introduction of his transportation plan, Senate President Mike Miller conceded that it is unlikely to go anywhere without the support of Gov. O’Malley, the Post’s John Wagner reports.

EXPERT TESTIMONY: Consumers could have more experts testifying in their behalf when utility cases are being decided by the Maryland Public Service Commission, if legislation passes that would enable customers of public service companies regulated by the PSC to apply to the commission to be reimbursed for the expenses of witnesses and lawyers if the commissioners find that those experts brought significant information to the case, Margie Hyslop reports in the Gazette.

STRIPPING COMPTROLLER DUTIES: A bill introduced by a staunch backer of last year’s casino expansion would strip significant tax- collection and regulatory duties from the state’s elected comptroller and shift them to a cabinet secretary appointed by the governor — a move interpreted by Comptroller Peter Franchot as retaliation for his outspoken opposition to the gambling plan and other independent stands he has taken, write Michael Dresser in the Sun.

TEXTBOOK TAX BREAK: With the cost of college tuition and textbooks on the rise, legislators are proposing sales tax breaks on textbooks in hopes of providing financial relief to students, reports Becca Heller for MarylandReporter.com. The Maryland Higher Education Commission says that the average college student will spend about $1,300 on textbooks and supplies in this school year.

PAPER MILL LOOPHOLE: A bill is being pushed to phase out lucrative credits given to paper mills for what is known as “black liquor” and other wood waste they generate and burn to run their plants, reports Tim Wheeler of the Sun. Over eight years, one Western Maryland paper mill and several others in the region have collected millions of dollars by taking advantage of an obscure provision in state law that allows them to sell “renewable energy credits” to power companies, which instead is supposed to encourage the development of wind, solar and other renewable energy projects.

DEL. BURNS ON ADMONISHMENT: The Sun’s Tim Wheeler writes that Del. Emmett Burns says that he has “accepted” his admonishment by the General Assembly’s ethics committee for using legislative stationery last year in trying to silence Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo’s outspoken support for same-sex marriage, but insists he had nothing to apologize for in speaking out.

DEL. MCCONKEY COMBATIVE: Maryland’s House of Delegates voted overwhelmingly yesterday to reprimand one of its own for working to insert language in a bill last year that would have directly benefited the lawmaker’s business as a real estate broker. But unlike the attitude of Del. Burns, Del. Tony McConkey took on a combative tone that colleagues on both sides of the aisle derided as something less than repentant, write John Wagner and Kate Havard for the Post.

The ethics committee found that McConkey failed to disclose a conflict of interest and improperly pushed for legislation that would have made it easier for him to regain his suspended real estate license, the Sun’s Tim Wheeler reports.

OBAMA VISIT CLOSES STREETS: Some streets in Annapolis will be closed today to accommodate President Obama’s visit. The Capital-Gazette lists them.

THE NEXT AA COUNTY EXEC: Tim Prudente of the Capital-Gazette speaks with Anne Arundel County residents about what they think are the requirements for someone to fill the position of county executive, now being held by an acting executive after the resignation of John Leopold following a misconduct conviction.

LEOPOLD TO KEEP PENSION: In an article about the flawed Anne Arundel County pension system and the council’s failure to fix it, Allison Bourg of the Capital-Gazette writes that Leopold likely got to keep his pension of more than $8,000 a year by stepping down voluntarily. Had the council voted to oust him, they could have stripped him of that benefit.

The editorial board for the Frederick News-Post steps into the fray and urges the Anne Arundel County Council to fix this giant loophole in its charter that allows Leopold to collect his pension. It then urges Frederick County to ensure that the same loophole does not exist in its newly adopted charter.

Columnist Marta Mossburg, writing in the Frederick News-Post, suggests that, in the light of Leopold’s conviction and other political miscreants, Maryland should bring back the stocks. “Politicians need the threat of shaming hanging over them to curtail the ceaseless stream of perverts, thieves, liars and drunks among them from acting on their normal proclivities,” she says.