State Roundup, April 30, 2018

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TOLL CRACKDOWN PULLS IN MILLIONS: Maryland’s stepped-up efforts to collect unpaid tolls are raking in millions of dollars for the state — outpacing the growth in toll revenue itself, Luz Lazo of the Post reports. State lawmakers and consumer protection groups say the crackdown — which includes referring thousands of delinquent accounts to collections — is punitive and predatory, and is pushing Marylanders into debt — and in some cases bankruptcy. Transportation officials say they are only enforcing tolls motorists should be paying anyway — a major shift from years past when the state allowed scofflaws to run up hefty amounts in unpaid tolls and fines without consequences.

FROSH TO PUSH DRUG ISSUE: Maryland’s attorney general is continuing to press a legal fight after a federal appeals court panel struck down Maryland’s first-in-the-nation law against pharmaceutical price gouging, the AP is reporting. In a 2-1 ruling, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled this month that the law is unconstitutional because it forces manufacturers and wholesalers to act in accordance with Maryland law outside of Maryland, burdening interstate commerce.

FRACKING BAN DISINGENUOUS: In an op-ed for the Annapolis Capital, Monica O’Connor of Maryland WISE Women, opines that Gov. Larry Hogan’s policies on fracking — natural gas extraction through the technology known as hydraulic fracturing — are disingenuous. After allaying concerns by signing the fracking ban into law, Hogan — along with his allies on the Public Service Commission and in the state Department of Energy — has been kick-starting a natural gas boom by aggressively promoting a dangerous web of fracked gas pipeline infrastructure and gas combustion projects throughout the state.

COURT REJECTS STORMWATER TAX CHALLENGE: Maryland appeals court has rejected a Baltimore synagogue’s challenge to a stormwater management levy on city property owners, popularly known as the “rain tax.” The Court of Special Appeals on Friday upheld a circuit judge’s ruling that the fee does not violate the synagogue’s right to free exercise of religion, the AP is reporting.

A PRIMARY PARTY SWITCH: Rumors that Montgomery County Republicans were being urged to switch parties in order to support more moderate Democrats in the June 26 primary came out in the open Friday at a county executive candidates forum in Rockville, reports Glynis Kazanjian for MarylandReporter.

SNOOZEFEST: Lan Lazarick of MarylandReporter writes that “Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz caught me snoozing at Thursday night’s forum with seven Democrats running for governor. Maybe their rhetoric had not been compelling enough to keep me awake, he suggested. True enough.”

MADALENO SEES UPHILL FIGHT: State Sen. Rich Madaleno, D-Montgomery County, last week conceded he faces an uphill battle to become the state’s first openly gay governor, writes Michael Lavers for the Washington Blade. A poll that Goucher College released on Wednesday notes Madaleno would lose to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan by a 27% to 45% margin if he were to win the Democratic gubernatorial primary on June 26.

MADALENO RUNS AD: Getting a jump on his six Democratic rivals for Maryland governor, state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. is up with the first cable TV ad in the 2018 primary election campaign, Michael Dresser of the Sun reports. The positive 30-second spot is running on CNN and MSNBC in the Montgomery County political base that Madaleno has represented in the General Assembly for 16 years.

TRONE DONATIONS CRITICIZED: Over the past two decades, as David Trone has emerged as a major donor in national politics, Trone, his family and his businesses have poured millions into Maryland politics — mostly to his own campaigns but also to dozens of elected officials and political organizations across the state. The magnitude of Trone’s contributions is unprecedented in Maryland and has made him a homegrown version of a modern political archetype: tycoons using their vast wealth to propel their transformations into candidates. Some say he is trying to buy a congressional seat, Paul Schwartzman of the Post writes.

SHAKEUP IN MILLER CAMP? Aruna Miller’s congressional campaign is expected to announce a major staff shakeup, according to two sources with knowledge of Miller’s plans. Ryan Miner of A Miner Detail blog writes that sources say that Miller, who is running to succeed John Delaney in Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, is set to bring on Shelia O’Connell, a well-known and well-connected political veteran political operative.

BA CO EXEC HOPEFULS PROMISE NEW SCHOOLS: Two Democrats running for Baltimore County executive – state Sen. Jim Brochin and former Del. Johnny Olszewski — are promising to build three new high schools, Dulaney, Lansdowne and Towson. But that promise would cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and it’s not clear where they would find the money, John Lee reports for WYPR-FM.

COUNCIL CANDIDATES ON CRIME, GROWTH: Candidates for Baltimore County Council from the Pikesville area are pledging to pursue policies to reduce crime and curtail excessive development in a district that shares a border with the city, Pamela Wood of the Sun writes. The three Democrats vying to replace Councilwoman Vicki Almond, who is running for county executive, say county government needs to do more to redevelop older communities while slowing the march of sprawl into rural areas in a district cradled between Reisterstown and Falls roads.

BLEAK PICTURE FOR MONTGOMERY: The six Democrats running for Montgomery County executive were greeted Friday morning with a fiery presentation from researcher Anirban Basu, who painted a bleak picture about the county’s business climate based on a report his firm, Sage Policy Group, published, reports Andrew Metcalf for Bethesda Beat.

  • High taxes, bad traffic, perceived hostility to business interests, a balky government bureaucracy and the possible shrinkage of the federal government put Montgomery County’s economy in jeopardy, a Sage Policy Group report has found – and county leaders haven’t been doing enough to prime the economic engine. The report was outlined during a very different type of candidate forum, and Josh Kurtz of Maryland Matters writes an analysis of the report and how it could effect the county executive’s race.

LEGGETT PUSHES BACK: County Executive Ike Leggett pushed back Friday against the findings detailed in a Sage Policy Group report, saying the report chose data that painted a picture of a languishing local economy when other factors—such as low unemployment and the county’s sterling bond rating—tell a different story, Andrew Metcalf of Bethesda Beat reports.

MO CO IN THROES OF GROWTH: Jennifer Barrios of the Post reports that in 1991, defense contractor General Dynamics was looking for a place to move its 200-job headquarters. The Montgomery County executive at the time, Neal Potter, had a ready answer: Not here. Potter said the county needed “to ease off” creating new jobs — because of the problems, like traffic, he said they would bring. The company ended up building in Northern Virginia.

ON JOE TYDINGS: Political commentator Barry Rascovar, who blogs at Political Maryland, writes about a new memoir/autobiography about former Sen. Joe Tydings, who in the 1950s and 1960s, whizzed across Maryland’s political sky like a comet, blazing a trail that signaled greatness. Yet a few years later Tydings was a spent force — though far from extinguished as a public-service contributor. Tydings opens the door part-way to his storied family ties.