January 6, 2015

State Roundup, January 6, 2015

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BAY’S LAGGING HEALTH: With the health of the country’s largest estuary largely unchanged over the past two years, environmentalists trying to clean up the Chesapeake Bay said they hope to work with Gov.-elect Larry Hogan (R) to improve the bay and an ecological system that is “dangerously out of balance.” In its 2014 State of the Bay Report, which was released Monday, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation found that the bay’s water quality has improved slightly but that the gains were offset by declines in the blue crab and rockfish populations, reports Ovetta Wiggins in the Post.

STATE CENTER IN HOGAN’S COURT: Decisions about the future of the $1.5 billion State Center project in Baltimore City will be left to Gov.-elect Larry Hogan, reports Michael Dresser in the Sun. O’Malley administration officials have decided not to seek approval of a revised development contract for the project at Wednesday’s meeting of the Board of Public Works, according to the Department of General Services. Because that is the last meeting for Gov. Martin O’Malley, decisions about State Center will be left to Hogan and his appointees.

MURRAY RESIGNS FROM DBED: Dominick Murray has resigned his position as the secretary of the Department of Business and Economic Development. Bryan Sears of the Daily Record writes that the resignation, which is effective at the close of business Tuesday, was announced in an email to department employees Monday afternoon. Murray’s departure from the agency was not completely unexpected given the election of a Republican governor.

STATE ED BOARD VACANCIES: Maryland Gov.-elect Larry Hogan may be focused on inauguration, but he’ll have some big education appointments to make in the new year. Hogan will get to appoint at least a half dozen new members to the State Board of Education, Tim Tooten reports for WBAL-TV.

CHARTER SCHOOL SEEKS AUTONOMY: Frederick Classical Charter School’s president made a pitch Monday to change Maryland law to give his school more autonomy over its employees and budget, writes Patti Borda Mullins for the Frederick News Post. Tom Neumark made a case to some County Council members, County Executive Jan Gardner and some Frederick County Board of Education members. He gave them a tutorial in charter school operations and frustrations from his 2-year-old school’s point of view.

HEARINGS ON PEPCO-EXELON MERGER: The state’s residential utility consumer advocate says nothing good will come of merging Chicago-based Exelon Corp. with Pepco Holdings Inc. – but that doesn’t mean ratepayers share her public ire, writes Anna Isaacs for the Daily Record.  Maryland People’s Counsel Paula Carmody says it isn’t clear that Pepco customers even know their local utility is facing a $6.8 billion takeover, despite the red flags her office has raised over the pending deal – and the fact that a week of public hearings on the merger begins tonight.

TRANSPARENCY IN NAMING REPLACEMENTS: In an opinion piece for MarylandReporter.com, Len Lazarick calls for more openness when it comes to local central committees nominating replacements for elected officials who leave office early, like Sen. Joe Getty, who won re-election by a landslide but whose replacement will be nominated by the nine-member Carroll County Republican Central Committee in secret.

HOGAN’S TAX CUTS: The editorial board for the Post writes that Larry Hogan’s successful campaign was based on a promise to roll back taxes, which he said could be easily achieved by eliminating $1.75 billion in wasteful state spending. Now the Post says Hogan has dropped the facile talk of “waste, fraud and abuse” and warns in somber tones that painful reductions in state spending are coming, while the promised tax cuts may have to wait. In fact, spending cuts were never going to be as simple as Hogan suggested during the campaign, nor quite as agonizing as he hints they will be now.

GAS PRICES DROP: Caleb Calhoun of Hagerstown Herald Mail reports that on the first Monday of the new year, gas prices were still dropping. Despite a gas-tax increase that went into effect across Maryland on Thursday, the average price for regular-grade gas in the state dropped 8 cents per gallon from $2.45 last week to $2.37 on Monday, according to the AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report online at http://fuelgaugereport.aaa.com/.

CASINO REVENUES UP & DOWN: Maryland Live! posted another $50 million month in December, more than doubling the results from its nearest competitor in Baltimore City. That represented almost two-thirds of the $85.6 million generated by all five of the state’s casinos — Hollywood Casino Perryville in Cecil County, Horseshoe Casino Baltimore in Baltimore City, Casino at Ocean Downs in Worcester County, and Rocky Gap Casino Resort in Allegany County, writes Rick Hutzell for the Annapolis Capital.

EYES ON WASHINGTON: With Republicans in control of both the House and Senate for the first time in nearly a decade, Washington is bracing for more battles over health care, immigration and government spending. But there are indications that agreements might be possible on overhauling the nation’s tax code, funding for infrastructure and finalizing trade agreements with Asia and Europe. All of those issues could have implications for Maryland, and many local groups are paying close attention in Washington, writes John Fritze for the Sun.

MOONEY RISING: Josh Kurtz of Center Maryland writes that the Maryland Republican with the brightest political future may be Alex Mooney. Mooney, of course, no longer resides in our state. He migrated across the border a couple of years ago to Charles Town, W.Va., in search, he says, of political freedom. Mooney becomes the new member of Congress representing West Virginia’s 2nd District and will likely go on to become a U.S. senator, Kurtz writes.

FROSH SWORN IN TODAY: State Sen. Brian  Frosh will be sworn in today as Maryland’s 44th attorney general. During a ceremony in Annapolis, Frosh will take over from out-going Attorney General Doug Gansler who held the post for eight years, reports Erin Cox for the Sun.

COMMUTING DEATH SENTENCES: The editorial board for the Sun, addressing Gov. O’Malley’s commuting the death sentences of the last four people on death row, writes that, “We have great sympathy for those whose family members were killed by these four men and no particular sympathy for the murderers themselves. But their cases were subsumed in the larger question of whether Maryland should allow capital punishment at all, and as Mr. O’Malley eloquently argued in his years-long effort to repeal it, the death penalty does not make us safer, is prone to bias in its imposition and can never be made completely error-free in its application.”

COUNCILMAN THREATENS TO SUE NEWS POST: The fun void left by Blaine Young’s defeat for Frederick County executive apparently has been filled. Paige Jones of the Frederick News Post writes that County Councilman Kirby Delauter wrote on social media that he plans to sue the News-Post if his name or any reference to him appears in print without his permission. In a Facebook status posted Saturday, Delauter said he was upset with reporter Bethany Rodgers for “an unauthorized use of my name and my reference in her article” published Jan. 3 about his and Councilman Billy Shreve’s concerns over County Council parking spaces.