July 25, 2013

State Roundup, July 25, 2013

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CUT ENERGY USE MORE, O’MALLEY URGES: The O’Malley administration’s aggressive new plan to fight climate change calls for Maryland residents to further cut their energy use or face higher monthly utility bills, Erin Cox and Tim Wheeler report for the Sun. The plan, to be released today by Gov. Martin O’Malley, also requires that more of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources by 2020.

GOOD CLIMATE CHOICES: In an op-ed for the Sun, Donald Boesch of the University of Maryland, writes that as we face the devastating effects of climate change, Maryland had already begun making good climate choices. Five months after assuming office in 2007, Gov. Martin O’Malley created the Maryland Climate Change Commission and charged it with developing an action plan to begin reducing greenhouse gas emissions to limit the magnitude of climate change and develop steps to adapt to the changes that lie ahead.

BWI EXPANSION PAYMENT OK’D: An angry Gov. Martin O’Malley said at the Board of Public Works meeting that “it’s pretty obvious” that 10 years after being awarded the contract to manage concessions at BWI Marshall Airport, AirMall USA had done little to help raise pay and benefits for workers. The issue came up as the board was preparing to approve the first payments for a $125 million airport expansion plan that will clear the way for more international flights, reports Candy Thomson for the Sun.

KENT DEVELOPMENT DECISION DELAYED: After a marathon hearing on a proposed 1,079-unit housing development on Kent Island, the state Board of Public Works decided Wednesday to delay a decision for at least a month while Queen Anne’s County officials seek assurances that the company will keep its commitments, writes Michael Dresser for the Sun.

The BPW heard hours of testimony from state officials, attorneys, project supporters and opponents, then decided to postpone a decision on the wetlands license until next month’s meeting, or longer if the parties need the time to iron out details, reports Pat Furgurson for the Capital-Gazette. Chief among them is an agreement to permanently protect 131 acres that was originally going to be developed.

Jordan Schatz of the Easton Star-Democrat reports that the developer said, “Given that the state’s wetlands administrator and Maryland Department of the Environment recommended that our license be granted, we remain hopeful to receive the Board’s final approval.”

SPORTS BAR LOAN: The Board of Public Works kicked a $240,000 loan to renovate and expand a popular sports bar franchise down the road on Wednesday. The board will instead decide whether to grant the economic development loan, which is 27% of total project costs, to the Towson Greene Turtle on York Road at the next BPW meeting on Aug. 21, writes Chris Goins for MarylandReporter.com.

WATER, SEWAGE SYSTEM UPGRADE: The state Board of Public Works also approved more than $65 million to upgrade sewage and drinking water systems throughout the state, writes Luke Broadwater in the Sun.

PG BACKS STORMWATER PLAN: The Prince George’s County Council on Wednesday endorsed a 10-year, $1.2 billion plan to improve the county’s management of its stormwater runoff, after the state and federal government ordered communities to slow pollution flowing to the Chesapeake Bay, the Post’s Miranda Spivack is reporting.

TEST MORATORIUM SOUGHT: A number of education leaders are calling for a moratorium on annual student assessments until Maryland switches to tests that match a new curriculum being implemented in classrooms, reports Liz Bowie for the Sun. The state teachers union and school superintendents association said Wednesday that they would support a halt to the Maryland School Assessment, which is given every year to students in the third through eighth grades.

C. Fraser Smith of WYPR-FM says there may have been a better way to blend the tests and Common Core standards and still keep the morale of the teacher corps up.

PG SCORES DOWN: Like the rest of the state, Prince George’s County elementary school math and reading scores are down compared to last year, ending a positive four-year streak on state tests, write Jamie Anfenson-Comeau for the Gazette. A change in how special education students are tested on the Maryland State Assessment and the transition to the national Common Core State Standards is believed to have contributed to the county’s decline on test scores.

CASINO BIDDER BUYS LAND: Maryland won’t pick a winning Prince George’s County casino site for several months, but one of the three bidders has moved forward with a $1.4 million land purchase, reports John Wagner for the Post. An affiliate of Greenwood Racing Inc. last month acquired a 22-acre site near Indian Head Highway and Old Fort Road in Fort Washington,

GANSLER ON OPEN GOVERNMENT: As he prepares to run for governor, Attorney General Doug Gansler is proposing a six-point Good Government overhaul to beef up accountability and transparency on state spending, Len Lazarick blogs in MarylandReporter.com. This includes a new public information inspector general to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent efficiently and effectively.

Gansler, who plans to formally announce his 2014 bid for governor in September, also proposed including public disclosure of meetings that take place between state employees and outside parties during the regulatory process and a “transparency portal” to provide the public better access to state data over the Internet, the Post’s John Wagner writes.

SEEKS HADDAWAY’S SEAT: Josh Bollinger of the Easton Star-Democrat writes that Philip Cronan, an attorney practicing throughout the Eastern Shore, has announced his candidacy for Del. Jeannie Haddaway’s District 37B House of Delegates seat, which covers Talbot County and parts of Dorchester, Caroline and Wicomico counties. Haddaway is running for lieutenant governor on the Republican ticket with David Craig.

HARRIS ‘TAKEN OUT OF CONTEXT:’ Maryland Congressman Andy Harris said his comment last week that those who are “hung up” on George Zimmerman’s “not guilty” verdict should “get over it” was taken out of context, and that he was referring to the media coverage, writes Gannett’s Nicole Gaudiano for the Salisbury Daily Times.

ERRONEOUS CITY TAX BREAKS STAND: The Sun’s Luke Broadwater and Scott Calvert report that Baltimore City finance director Harry Black is saying that the city can’t legally recoup more than $1.5 million in erroneous tax breaks given in recent years for renovations to historic commercial properties. “Although those errors were identified, the city doesn’t have the ability, legally, to go back and rebill those individuals,” Black said. “They’ve already paid what they were billed.”

CHALLENGES TO PRIVATIZING CARE FACILITIES: Opponents of privatizing the Frederick County-owned nursing and assisted living centers say they have launched a legal challenge against Frederick County for its decision to sell the facilities, reports Bethany Rodgers for the Frederick News-Post. The issue also is before the state Board of Public Works, which decided Wednesday to delay a vote on whether to approve the sale. The state must sign off on the transaction because it provided $200,000 in grants for constructing a new building for the two centers.

LOW INCOME HOME HELP: The Prince George’s County Council struggled with legislation that would help residents of apartments that the landlord doesn’t keep up ways to cope – by having the county or a designated nonprofit buy the complex. After an amendment, the bill passed, writes Miranda Spivack for the Post.

MANAGING DEEP CREEK: The Garrett County commissioners and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources agreed Wednesday night to work together to create a Deep Creek Lake Watershed Management Plan that will guide environmental and economic decisions at the popular recreation spot, according to the Cumberland Times-News.