August 5, 2014

State Roundup, August 5, 2014

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GAMBLING & LOW INCOME RESIDENTS: In a series on gambling in Maryland appearing in MarylandReporter.com, Lejla Sarcevic, Ethan Barton and Lauren McLendon of the Capital News Service report that lower-income ZIP codes contributed a disproportionate share of gambling revenues. An analysis also found more than a third of the revenue came from Prince George’s County and Baltimore City. Baltimore City led the state in average dollars spent on lottery tickets per adult, followed by Charles County and Prince George’s County.

DONATION CURB FAILS: Maryland lawmakers made it illegal in 2012 for casino owners to make donations to political candidates, a move intended to curb the influence of a deep-pocketed industry new to the state. The ban, however, is limited and has done little to stop the flow of funds associated with one prolific donor: William M. Rickman Jr., a Montgomery County developer and owner of the Casino at Ocean Downs on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, reports John Wagner in the Post. Eleven companies owned or affiliated with Rickman and his family have contributed more than $86,000 to Maryland candidates since the ban took effect in October 2012.

FERC DRAFT ON CONOWINGO: The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s draft environmental impact statement on relicensing three Susquehanna River hydroelectric projects includes recommendations for Exelon’s Conowingo Dam, reports Josh Bollinger for the Easton Star Democrat. Exelon seeks relicensing to continue operating the Conowingo Dam — a hydroelectric generating power plant located near the end of the Susquehanna River, which often gets blamed as a major contributor of sediment in the Chesapeake Bay.

SEISMIC TESTING: Eight Democratic members of Maryland’s congressional delegation wrote President Obama Monday urging him to reconsider his administration’s plan to allow seismic testing for oil and gas off the mid-Atlantic coast, reports Tim Wheeler in the Sun.They warned that the tests would be “incredibly harmful to marine mammals and fisheries in the region,” generating “dynamite-like” blasts of compressed air underwater that could hurt whales, dolphins and fish.

CLEAN WATER, GOOD BUSINESS: Stephen Schaff of the Chesapeake Sustainable Business Council writes, in an op-ed in the Sun, that clean water is a front-burner business issue in Maryland and elsewhere. Consider crabbers on the Chesapeake Bay. They know that pollution hurts their bottom line. Nitrogen and phosphorus pollution threaten the crab population by fueling “dead zones” — portions of the Chesapeake Bay that are oxygen-deprived due to excess algae. According to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, those dead zones prevent the growth of 75,000 metric tons of clams and worms a year — enough to support half of the crab harvest. And this is only one example.

FORGETTING WESTERN MARYLAND: The editorial board for the Hagerstown Herald Mail opines that the U.S. Small Business Administration is in Clear Spring this month to offer low-interest disaster loans to residents, nearly two months after catastrophic floods devastated a significant portion of the town. The situation illustrates two problems that stand between Western Marylanders and the emergency relief that their taxes pay for. First are the requirements for an area to meet federal disaster-area criteria.The second, and perhaps more disturbing factor, is the refusal of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration to request disaster aid from the federal government.

LAND & LABOR: Josh Kurtz of Center Maryland unravels an unusual and under-reported deal approved by the Board of Public Works: the $31.4 million sale of the National Labor College, right next to the Capital Beltway in Silver Spring. This is a property with a lot of political history and symbolism. The Board of Public Works vote, and the debate that preceded it, will add to that history, as it was chock-full of surprises and contradictions and hidden agendas, he writes.

EBOLA EXERCISE: The state of Maryland has held an ebola-focused exercise to test the state’s ability to respond to the deadly virus, reports the AP’s Brian Witte in the Cumberland Times-News. Gov. Martin O’Malley convened the cabinet-level drill on Monday. The governor’s press office says there have been no cases of Ebola in Maryland, and the likelihood of an outbreak in the state is low.

O’MALLEY THE AUTHOR? Gov. Martin O’Malley sidestepped a question Monday about whether he was writing a book — a frequent prelude to a candidacy for president — while keeping the door open to a run for the Democratic nomination in 2016, writes Michael Dresser in the Sun. In an interview on the Fusion cable and satellite network, O’Malley showed a deft ability to dodge inconvenient questions, such as interviewer Jorge Ramos’ attempt to lure him into saying whether the country would have been better off if Hillary Clinton had won the presidency in 2008.

BLAIR LEE’S MAILBAG: Gazette columnist Blair Lee opens up his mail bag and runs a few letters from readers. Several address the issue of whether people actually are moving out of state because of high taxes and what can be done about disruptive children in the classroom.