April 15, 2015

State Roundup, April 15, 2015

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TUG OF WAR A NEW REALITY: Gov. Larry Hogan, the first Republican to lead the state in eight years, won only a token tax cut for some military retirees during his first session with this Democratically controlled General Assembly and says there is still a structural deficit of more than $200 million for next year. The Democrats set aside extra money for schools, raises and other priorities but were stymied when Hogan said he probably wouldn’t spend it. The standoff illustrated a new reality in Annapolis, Robert McCartney and Jenna Johnson report for the Post.

A $200 MILLION QUESTION: As legislators bolt from the capital city, writes Bryan Sears for the Daily Record, the biggest question remains: Will Gov. Hogan spend $200 million fenced off by lawmakers to pay for a non-mandatory education, state employee raises promised by former Gov. Martin O’Malley and a host of other priorities important to the Democratically controlled House and Senate?

  • Writes Erin Cox in the Sun, Gov. Larry Hogan appeared to soften his stance Tuesday on spending $200 million the General Assembly set aside for education, employee pay and health care, saying his team would review the budget and “see how much money we have to spend on what.” The night before, amid an acrimonious debate on the budget, Hogan told reporters he was “very unlikely” to spend that pool of cash.

STRIKE ONE FOR HOGAN: Reversing his earlier positive take on Hogan’s budget, columnist Barry Rascovar takes a much harsher view of the past week. “In his stubbornly conservative and highly politicized approach to governing Annapolis … Republican Larry Hogan Jr. took a step that may seal his fate as a one-term governor. In just a few days Hogan managed to alienate and infuriate state workers, public school teachers and education advocates, disability workers, supporters of medical assistance for poor pregnant women and doctors who treat Medicaid patients. He also left a trail of non-accomplishments.”

SIGNING ON SMILES: Gov. Larry Hogan started signing some of the hundreds of bills passed by the General Assembly over the 90 day session on Tuesday, and it was a packed house where everyone was on their best behavior. You’d never guess that less than 12 hours earlier, Hogan and the legislature’s Democratic leaders were settling irritably into a budget stalemate, Christopher Connelly writes for WYPR-FM.

Miller Hogan Busch 4-14-2015

At Tuesday’s bill signing ceremony, Gov. Larry Hogan, center, and House Speaker Michael Busch share a rare laugh. (Photo by Rebecca Lessner for MarylandReporter.com)

BILLS AWAITING HOGAN’S SIGN-OFF: The just-completed legislative session in Annapolis was dominated by the debate over whether to fully fund schools, shore up the pension fund or pay for other priorities. But budget negotiations were not all that happened over the past 90 days in the General Assembly. Lawmakers passed 652 bills, Ovetta Wiggins and Arelis R. Hernández report for the Post.

SUCCESSFUL TRIO: Steve Lash of the Daily Record writes, “A freshman committee chair looking to make his mark, a legislator-turned-attorney general seeing if he still has State House sparkle and a state senator eying a congressional seat were able to celebrate Tuesday after the General Assembly wrapped up. The bills they championed this session had passed.” He writes about Sens. Bobby Zirkin and Jamie Raskin and Attorney General Brian Frosh.

NO NEW HURDLES FOR BUSINESSES: The 2015 General Assembly session that ended at midnight Monday didn’t create any new hurdles for companies in Maryland, but advocates still believe there is work to be done before the state is truly “open for business,” writes Adam Bednar for the Daily Record.

POT PARAPHERNALIA: Both the House and the Senate voted to decriminalize pipes and other paraphernalia if they’re directly used with marijuana. Critics complain the measure will introduce more people to illegal drugs. WBFF-TV interviews addiction expert Mike Gimbel about the issue.

FIRST-YEAR LEGISLATORS ASSESS: Lawmakers lined up along the walls of the Governor’s Reception Room, waiting to stand behind Gov. Larry Hogan as bills they’ve poured their hearts into the past 90-days were signed into law Tuesday morning. Perhaps the most eager of these legislators were the new kids on the block, first-year legislators that made up the largest freshmen class to occupy the State House in 20 years, Rebecca Lessner of MarylandReporter.com writes.

CECIL LAWMAKERS’ EFFORTS: Jacob Owens for the Cecil Whig writes that Cecil County’s lawmakers have also been trying to get a variety of legislation in the books. Among the issues addressed by the county’s eight legislators were phosphorous management for farms, court record fees for veterans, oyster poaching, maximum state speed limits and recognizing fallen veterans and first responders.

EDUCATION BILLS: Jeremy Bauer-Wolf writes in the Frederick News Post how education bills fared in this year’s General Assembly.

UMS TO FEEL THE PINCH: Maryland’s fiscal 2016 budget could have been much worse for the state’s higher education facilities, officials say, but the University System of Maryland will still feel the squeeze of a $47 million shortfall, reports Daniel Leaderman for the Daily Record. As a result, institutions in the system can expect to face hiring freezes, larger class sizes and other service reductions in the coming year, says UMS Chancellor Brit Kirwan.

HERO’S HIGHWAY ACT: Gov. Larry Hogan chose the Hero’s Highway Act as one of the first bills he would sign after the close of the state’s legislative session on Monday. The measure shared a signing ceremony with 120 other bills, but when Hogan penned his name on the Hero’s Highway proposal, the room broke into applause, reports Bethany Rodgers for the Frederick News Post.

ANNAPOLIS BARRACK WON’T REOPEN: The Annapolis barrack of the Maryland State Police will not reopen after lawmakers refused to consider Gov. Larry Hogan’s plan for the building, reports Chase Cook in the Annapolis Capital. The state budget passed Monday night didn’t include the $8.2 million Hogan wanted for 100 new troopers and the facility’s reopening. Thirty-three troopers would have been stationed there.

INMATE FOOD CONTRACT: Grilled bureaucrats with a side order of roasted contractors is slated for the menu at Wednesday’s Board of Public Works meeting. The governor, treasurer and comptroller are all expected to turn up the heat over a flawed $37 million contract awarded Jan. 7 for inmate food services in Baltimore City, writes Len Lazarick for MarylandReporter.com.

VAN HOLLEN ON TRADE POWERS: Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Montgomery County Democrat who is running for the Senate, said Tuesday he will oppose legislation to give the president greater authority to negotiate international trade agreements — an issue that has split Democrats on Capitol Hill, writes John Fritze for the Sun.

VAN HOLLEN GETS MORE SUPPORT: Several members of Montgomery County’s legislative delegation endorsed Rep. Chris Van Hollen’s campaign for Senate at an event in Silver Spring on Tuesday — including some lawmakers who are planning to run for his House seat, writes John Fritze for the Sun.

EDWARDS PICKS UP STEAM IN PG: Seven members of the Prince George’s County Council will endorse Rep. Donna F. Edwards’ campaign for Senate at an event in Largo today. Edwards, a Democrat, represents the 4th Congressional District, which is based in Prince George’s County. She is running to replace Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who will retire in 2017, John Fritze writes for the Sun.

DAIRY ASSETS SEIZED: Rachel Weiner of the Post writes about Randy Sowers, who owns a fast-growing and much admired dairy farm in Frederick County, whose financial assets the federal government has seized in its effort to target money laundering. Sowers always expected the government to show up one day and ask where all the cash he was depositing at his bank came from. He thought he had the right answer: from his business selling eggs and milk at farmers markets.

EX-ARUNDEL STATE’S ATTORNEY DIES: Tim Prudente of the Annapolis Capital reports that former Anne Arundel State’s Attorney Frank Weathersbee, who served a quarter-century as the county’s top prosecutor championing the rights of victims, died Tuesday afternoon at his home in Crownsville.