May 8, 2015

State Roundup, May 8, 2015

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MDTA ROLLS BACK TOLLS: Maryland motorists will soon pay less to use Maryland’s toll roads and bridges under a plan approved Thursday by the Maryland Transportation Authority. Bryan Sears of the Daily Record reports that Gov. Larry Hogan said the statewide toll reductions totaling $54 million annually will benefit 2 million motorists and is the fulfillment of a campaign promise. “Our toll tax rollback will ease the squeeze and make travel less expensive for struggling Marylanders,” Hogan said during a news conference alongside the toll facility at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

HASTY DECISION: The editorial board for the Sun opines that whatever one might have thought about the Maryland Transportation Authority’s decision to raise tolls four years ago, no one can say the two-phase proposal wasn’t scrutinized from all angles or that the public wasn’t given sufficient opportunity to ask questions or make comment. The same can’t be said for the agency’s decision to roll them back — in some cases below what they were before the last price increase.

Here’s video of Thursday’s press conference on the tolls. At the end of the video, Gov. Hogan crosses out the current tolls on the sign and writes in the new tolls.

RED LINE FOR ECONOMIC GROWTH: The GBC’s Donald Fry, in a column for Center Maryland, touts construction of the Red Line, writing that, if the it becomes a reality, it would generate more than 15,000 jobs and increase household earnings in the Baltimore region by $539.7 million, according to a report released on May 5 by Transportation for America. Simply put, the Red Line is a jobs line. It is a critical catalyst for our region’s economic growth. He says similar things will happen with the Purple Lie.

HO CO ASK HOGAN TO RELEASE FUNDS: Howard County school system officials teamed up with the teachers’ union and community groups Wednesday to call on Gov. Larry Hogan to free up nearly $3 million in state funding for Howard schools in his final spending plan for next fiscal year, reports Amanda Yeager for the Howard County Times.

MIXED REVIEWS ON ENVIRONMENT: The smart growth group 1000 Friends of Maryland, like other organizations focused on the environment, has given Gov. Larry Hogan mixed reviews for his first 100 days in office, tempering positives with sharp criticism, writes Rebecca Lessner for MarylandReporter.com.

RURAL COALITION GROWS: With four additional counties recently joining the Maryland Rural Counties Coalition, the organization now counts 15 of the state’s counties as members, with a population of more than 1.3 million Marylanders, the Cumberland Times News is reporting. “With numbers, we have a greater voice for rural Maryland. We look forward to working with our new members, the …. General Assembly and the administration to have a collective conversation on how to go about creating a great future for all Maryland residents,” said Doug Howard, chairman of the coalition and president of the Carroll County Commission.

CARROLL REINSTATES LEGISLATIVE LIAISON: The Carroll County Board of Commissioners is expected to name one of the county government’s senior staff members as its official legislative liaison next week, a position that has not been filled in five years. Wiley Hayes of the Carroll County Times reports that the liaison would be responsible for researching and analyzing legislation introduced in the General Assembly, determining its possible effect on Carroll, acting as a go-between for the commissioners and county legislators and even testifying before House and Senate committees on behalf of the county.

VIEWS ON JUSTICE SYSTEM: Wide racial, political and religious gaps exist in the perceptions that people have of the nation’s criminal justice system, a poll released Thursday in the wake of tensions in Baltimore has found. Only 17% of black Americans believe that minorities receive the same treatment as whites in the criminal justice system, according to a survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, a non-partisan group based in Washington. That compares with 46% of whites who feel the system is neutral racially, writes John Fritze for the Sun.

JUSTICE TO LAUNCH FULL PROBE IN BALTIMORE: U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch plans to launch a full-scale civil rights investigation into use of force by Baltimore police officers, according to sources with knowledge of the matter. John Fritze, Mark Puente and Ian Duncan of the Sun write that the decision came as local officials pressed the Department of Justice to launch an inquiry similar to investigations into police departments in Ferguson, Mo., and Cleveland, examining whether officers engaged in patterns of excessive force. In both of those cities, unrest erupted after unarmed people were killed by police.

CUMMINGS REFLECTS: U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings says he saw anger, fear and frustration but also hope, inspiration and love throughout West Baltimore last week. He talked with Luke Broadwater of the Sun about the regular citizens he saw step up in a trying time, the most surreal moment he witnessed and the surprising alliance between authorities and street gangs.

CUMMINGS TO HOLD BANKING FORUM: U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings will hold a forum in Baltimore next week to explore whether the banking industry is neglecting inner-city neighborhoods, forcing residents to rely on predatory lenders and high-fee check cashing services. John Fritze of the Sun writes that Cummings has suggested that the lack of economic opportunity and financial services has harmed urban areas and communities of color, trapping consumers in a “cycle of high fees and debt.”

CARSON: IT’S THE ECONOMY: Ben Carson, the retired Hopkins neurosurgeon who announced his presidential campaign this week, returned to Baltimore on Thursday to tell community leaders here that the way to relieve tensions with police and help impoverished neighborhoods is to fix the nation’s economy.

O’MALLEY HIRES TOP OBAMA AIDE: As he prepares to launch a White House bid in the coming weeks, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has brought on a former aide to President Obama to serve as his national political director, John Wagner reports for the Post.