December 17, 2014

State Roundup, December 17, 2014

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NEW VOTING MACHINES EXPECTED: In an era that increasingly relies on paperless technology, Maryland is about to revert to using old-fashioned pen and paper to elect its leaders, Erin Cox is reporting in the Sun. The Board of Public Works is expected to approve a $28 million contract today to replace Maryland’s touch-screen voting system with machines that scan paper ballots, which voters will mark with a pen or pencil.

CASINO TO REDUCE SLOTS: The Maryland Lottery and Gaming Commission Tuesday approved a request to reduce the number of slot machines at Hollywood Casino in an effort to make the Perryville facility more profitable, reports Bryan Sears for the Daily Record. The request was supported by every other casino in the state. It also opened the door to other operators saying they would also seek reductions in the number of machines and questioning state law that requires them to seek permission to alter the mix of table games and video lottery terminals.

CAESARS RECEIVERSHIP: Mark Reutter of Baltimore Brew reports that months of behind-the-scenes talks with creditors have led debt-ridden Caesars Entertainment Corp. to the brink of bankruptcy. Yesterday, the company announced that it will not pay $225 million in bond interest, triggering a default that could lead to a bankruptcy filing as early as Jan. 15. The question for stakeholders – including Baltimore City and employees at the Horseshoe Casino – is whether a Caesars receivership will go swiftly and quietly, as company executives hope, or erupt into a messy financial battle.

ROSAPEPE ON BUDGET SOLUTIONS: Jim Rosapepe, Senate chair of the legislature’s audit and technology committees, in an open letter to Gov.-elect Larry Hogan for the Sun, offers words of advice as Hogan begins looking for ways to save the state money. He begins with his Three Don’ts: Don’t count on deleting the “waste, fraud and abuse” line item in the budget. It’s not there; Don’t be penny-wise and pound foolish; Don’t champion the tea party ideology of “less is better.”

HOGAN, RAWLINGS-BLAKE MEET: Gov.-elect Larry Hogan and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake dined at Johnny’s in Roland Park on Monday evening. It was the first time the incoming Republican governor and the Democratic mayor of Maryland’s largest city have met in person. During the meeting, Rawlings-Blake said, she discussed the importance of the Red Line light rail and State Center projects to Baltimore City — both of which could be on the chopping block as Hogan looks to cut the state budget, which is facing a $1.2 billion shortfall, writes Luke Broadwater in the Sun.

FEDERAL FUNDS FOR STATE CENTER? An outgoing state legislator said local leaders are trying to leverage federal funds to make the proposed $1.5 billion redevelopment of State Center possible, even as doubts about the financial viability of the project continue to mount, reports Adam Bednar for the Daily Record. Del. Shawn Tarrant, a Democrat who currently represents the State Center area but lost his re-election bid, said there have been conversations about rearranging the project, which as proposed involves building a new garage, office space and eventually residential units to leverage federal dollars.

PG LAWMAKERS PUSH LOCAL PROJECTS: Prince George’s County lawmakers said they are preparing to defend state investments in major county projects given looming budget cuts and a governor-elect who campaigned against raising taxes, reports Arelis Hernandez for the Post. Del. Jay Walker (D), chairman of the House delegation, will help lead the effort to convince Gov.-elect Larry Hogan (R) that funds for a new regional hospital, a bid for a new FBI headquarters, school construction and building the Purple Line are beneficial not just to Prince George’s but also to the state.

MTA PROBES POSSIBLE CONFLICT: The Maryland Transit Administration said Tuesday it was looking into a possible conflict of interest involving a member of Gov.-elect Larry Hogan’s transition team who is also part of a private-sector consortium competing for the long-term contract to design, build, operate and partly finance the Purple Line light-rail project, report Bill Turque and and Katherine Shaver for the Post.

SENATE COMMITTEE ASSIGNMENTS: Senate President Mike Miller announced the full slate of committee assignments Tuesday, finding places for the 11 new senators and shifting several of the incumbents, according to MarylandReporter.com, which is reporting the full list of assignments.

Calendar cover image 2015

The new calendar includes the birthdays of all 58 new delegates and 11 new senators. Click on the photo for more details.

WA CO DEAL FOR AG CENTER: Moving closer to achieving a goal set by local leaders for years, state officials are currently working on an agreement that would officially transfer ownership of the Washington County Agricultural Education Center to the county for $1, C.J. Lovelace reports in the Hagerstown Herald-Mail.

TOBACCO TAX CONUNDRUM: In an op-ed for the Sun, Dee Hodges and Jeff Ferguson of the Maryland Taxpayers Association write that, in recent years, Maryland has substantially raised tobacco taxes. Its current rates of $2 for a pack of cigarettes and 15% to 70% for other tobacco products like cigars are among the highest in the country. The state enjoys a huge revenue gain from the taxes, but there are ironies and unintended consequences associated with the taxes on tobacco products that may not have been adequately considered.

O’MALLEY, SUPPORTERS MEET: Gov. Martin O’Malley huddled in Annapolis on Tuesday with more than 100 supporters from across the country but gave no indication of whether he plans to move forward with a 2016 presidential bid, according to several participants, reports John Wagner for the Post. The private gathering, hosted by O’Malley’s political action committee, featured several political briefings, remarks by the governor and a reception at an Annapolis-based energy company where O’Malley’s first chief of staff, Michael Enright, works as managing director.

DGA-RGA LEADERS PARTNER: Over the past four years, the men who ran the Republican and Democratic governors’ associations competed fiercely. Now, they’re going into business together. RGA executive director Phil Cox and his DGA counterpart, Colm O’Comartun, are forming 50-State LLC, a bipartisan consulting firm that will help corporate clients navigate state governments, reports James Hohmann for Politico. O’Comartun is outgoing Gov. Martin O’Malley’s right-hand political man and will play a key role if the Democrat runs for president.

SSA CONFIRMATION STALLS: U.S. Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin led a symbolic and unsuccessful effort Tuesday to force a vote on President Barack Obama’s nominee to lead the Social Security Administration, arguing that the agency needs a permanent leader in place before the new Congress is sworn in next year. Carolyn W. Colvin was nominated in June to a six-year term as commissioner of the Woodlawn-based agency, but concerns over a troubled computer system have stalled her confirmation, writes John Fritze for the Sun.

YOUNG ADMITS TO RELATIONSHIP: Blaine Young, the former Frederick County Commissioners president, acknowledged he had a romantic relationship with a county employee while serving on the board. At a public meeting Tuesday afternoon, Young told the County Council that the employee was recently reassigned and took a pay cut as a result of the roughly 1½-year relationship, and he urged the council to investigate. Paige Lee Jones reports in the Frederick News Post.

HARFORD PULLS BACK ON POLICY: Harford County Council President Richard Slutzky abruptly backpedaled Tuesday on his request that residents and media not approach the dais after meetings, apologizing again for the way the policy was announced, Bryna Zumer reports in the Aegis. “Last week, mistakes were made regarding customary council practices,” Slutzky read from a statement toward the end of Tuesday’s council meeting, the last one in 2014. He said it was “clear” that residents expect the council to continue past policies.