October 31, 2013

State Roundup, October 31, 2013

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TOBACCO TAX HIKE: A study released Wednesday by the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative calls for a $1 increase to the state’s tobacco tax rate for the second time in less than a decade, reports Alex Jackson in the Capital-Gazette. The group said an increase to Maryland’s “cigarette tax” in 2008 from $1 to $2 per pack curbed the number of smokers in the state.

REVENGE PORN: Sun columnist Susan Reimer writes that while the proponents of a law making it illegal to post revenge porn hope that the law will be a deterrent to posting those pictures in revenge, she is hoping this whole conversation will be a deterrent to taking them and sharing them in the first place. Find another way to stoke the fires of passion, people.

DDA WHISTLEBLOWER: At the time advocates were lobbying for an alcohol tax increase to raise revenue for the disabled, the Developmental Disabilities Administration covered up $38 million in unspent state and federal funds from fiscal year 2010, according to court documents filed by Carrie Phillip, former Chief Financial Officer of the agency. Mark Newgent of Watchdog Wire, in an article published in MarylandReporter.com, writes that Phillip filed a complaint in Baltimore City Circuit Court, alleging that she notified top agency officials about the unspent funds, that top officials in the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene ordered her to hide the surplus funds in 2011 and that she was subsequently terminated for blowing the whistle.

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PENSION PROBLEMS: The money Maryland’s state and local governments have failed to set aside to fulfill pension promises made to teachers and employees has ballooned to more than $22.5 billion over the past five years, a new report has found. But, writes Len Lazarick for MarylandReporter.com, the counties that run their own pension systems are in much better shape than the state of Maryland, with the exception of Prince George’s County.

CUT SPENDING: In an opinion piece in the Hagerstown Herald Mail, Del. Andrew Serafini writes that the state will be faced with two choices in the coming fiscal year: raise revenues or cut spending. Since the leadership has raised 40 taxes and fees over the last seven years, as well as transferred dedicated funds, maybe it is time to consider real cuts in spending. The total budget was $34 billion several years ago. It is now more than $40 billion (through difficult economic times). (Editor’s note: Total spending in FY 2014 is $37 billion.)

CASINO CRIME: The Maryland Live casino has seen the most crime of all four casinos and reported to gambling regulators that police have responded to the facility more than 110 times this year, about half the number of incidents reported at all of them. But the level of crime at the casino and surrounding area has been far lower than even opponents had expected, reports Pamela Wood in the Sun.

$9M FOR BAY: The Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort got a $9.2 million injection of funds Wednesday, as the Environmental Protection Agency and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation announced grants to 40 projects to reduce stormwater and farm pollution, rebuild oyster reefs and restore trout streams and other habitats across the six-state watershed, writes Tim Wheeler in the Sun.

WILDLIFE SERVICE GETS $1M: An AP report in the Capital-Gazette says that the Maryland Wildlife & Heritage Service will get $1 million in federal funds from an excise tax on the sale of firearms and ammunition, a 10% increase in its total budget.

STATE CHIDES CHARLES CO: State officials are pressing Charles County to back off a disputed development plan they contend would degrade a vital Chesapeake Bay tributary and open up swaths of farmland to sprawling housing projects, reports Tim Wheeler in the Sun. The heads of 13 state agencies — who make up the O’Malley administration’s Smart Growth “subcabinet” — called the county’s draft growth plan “unsustainable” and warned it would violate state law and jeopardize future state funding for land preservation, community revitalization and road, water and sewer projects.

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MO CO TO LOBBY STATE: Bill Turque of the Post reports that Montgomery officials will gather today to formally kick off what County Executive Ike Leggett regards as his top legislative priority for next year’s Maryland General Assembly: construction funding for a school system squeezed to the seams by surging enrollment.

HEALTH SIGNUPS: Well over 85,000 Marylanders obtained health coverage through Maryland’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act since the state began carrying out key components of the health reform law three weeks ago, according to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. For many of these enrollees this marks the first time they have been able to afford coverage in a long time, or ever, according to Maryland’s Money Matters.

JAIL CORRUPTION: Ilana Kowarski of MarylandReporter.com writes that body scanners and phone wiretaps throughout Maryland’s prison system are the latest in a series of legislative proposals being considered by lawmakers trying to eliminate corruption in the state’s correctional facilities.

AGAIN, JUST MOVE: After receiving a number of angry emails and phone calls, Thomas Schaller, in an op-ed in the Sun, reiterates his initial idea for those who would like Western Maryland to secede from the rest of the state: move to West Virginia.

UNDERAGE DRINKING: A new study finds that underage college students in Maryland are significantly more likely to drink alcohol than those in other parts of the United States, according to an AP report in the Frederick News Post.

TALKING ISSUES: Laslo Boyd of Center Maryland writes about the three Democratic candidates for governor, says that so far, none does a particularly good job of articulating the key issues facing Maryland. What should they be talking about?  As Barry Rascovar noted in a recent commentary, Maryland appears to be facing another significant budget deficit in this next year.  A campaign in which the candidates for governor don’t present their views on that critical challenge does a great disservice to voters. 

MO CO SAFETY NET: The Montgomery County Council approved a measure Tuesday strengthening a safety net program for the working poor, but left room to opt out if it decided the extra support was not affordable, reports the Post’s Bill Turque.

LAURA NEUMAN SPEAKS: Anne Arundel County Executive Laura Neuman visits Center Maryland to discuss the county’s expansion in BRAC/ Cyber related industries, the need to tackle tough issues and her campaign to run for county executive in the coming year.

  • RadDad1

    Not enough $$$ for bureautcratic pensions in Maryland and PG county. Can everyone say “tax increase” when the next governor gets elected?