State Roundup, May 24, 2108

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E-ZPASS FEE ELIMINATION: Maryland is eliminating the $7.50 fee imposed on all new customers of the state’s E-ZPass program, a strategic move to grow electronic toll payments as the state explores a cashless system for its eight toll facilities, writes Luz Lazo in the Post. The decision, announced by Gov. Larry Hogan on Wednesday at the foot of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, also comes at a critical time in his reelection bid and builds on one of his first orders of business as governor three years ago when he lowered tolls across the state, marking the first time in 50 years that tolls were rolled back.

  • “We will now offer E-ZPass transponders at no cost,” said Hogan. “No upfront costs, no monthly costs. No cost at all. And, lower costs for using it.” Bryan Sears of the Daily Record reports that Hogan estimated the change would “put another $46 million into the pockets of hardworking Marylanders, retirees and small businesses.”
  • Hogan said the change, which takes effect immediately, will save Marylanders $6 million in transponder costs and provide $40 million in discounts for those who are expected to use E-ZPass over the next five years, writes Michael Dresser in the Sun. The governor noted that motorists using the state’s E-ZPass pay only $2.50 to cross the Bay Bridge while cash customers pay $4. Customers receive discounts of 25% or more at other Maryland toll facilities.

ACTIVISTS CAMPAIGN AGAINST DOLE FOR AMAZON: Activists are organizing against the Washington region’s bids for Amazon.com’s second headquarters, saying governments shouldn’t offer tax subsidies to a wealthy company when they haven’t devoted enough money to public schools, mass transit and the poor, writes Katherine Shaver in the Post. In a meeting Tuesday night, about 100 activists called for more transparency in the bids submitted by the District, Maryland and Virginia.

$87 MILLION IN HIDDEN FEES: Maryland’s state pension scheme has furiously defended hidden fees worth $87 million that it paid to private equity managers following criticism published by a think-tank last month, writes an article in the Financial Times, an international business newspaper. The feud has reignited debate over whether U.S. public pension schemes receive value for money from Wall Street investment managers at a time when the outlook for returns from private equity strategies is deteriorating

FRANCHOT NOW PUSHES WINE SALES IN GROCERIES: Comptroller Peter Franchot wants Maryland to join a majority of the U.S. and allow beer and wine sales in all grocery stores, marking a reversal from a previous stance he had on the issue as recently as last fall, Holden Wilen reports for the Baltimore Business Journal.

KAMENETZ SUB COULD BE NAMED TODAY: The Baltimore County Council will meet this morning to adopt a $3.3 billion budget — and possibly appoint a new county executive, reports Pamela Wood in the Sun. The 10 a.m. meeting initially was scheduled to pass a series of spending bills but the death of County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and the question of who should replace him has overshadowed the council’s other priorities. The county’s charter authorizes the council to appoint a replacement but does not say by when.

17 COMPETITIVE STATE SENATE RACES: Significant change is coming to the state Senate in 2019, and the latest fundraising numbers confirm that according to a snapshot of fundraising in 17 competitive state Senate races across the state, writes Josh Kurtz in Maryland Matters. The numbers were compiled from reports that were due at the Maryland State Board of Elections Tuesday and show that some legislators – even some who are vulnerable – did not aggressively resume fundraising once the session ended.

3rd DISTRICT STATE SENATE: Kelsi Loos of the Frederick News Post does a Q&A with two candidates running for the Maryland Senate from the 3rd District. Here’s her Q&A with Craig Giangrande and here’s her Q&A with Bill Shreve.

DEM GOV HOPEFULS SIGN OBAMACARE PLEDGE: The seven major Democrats running for Maryland governor have all signed a pledge to support a plan to shore up Obamacare if they are elected, reports Erin Cox in the Sun. Representatives from the campaigns were expected to announce their support for the plan yesterday in Baltimore, according to Vincent DeMarco, president of Health Care for All. The pledge supports what advocates call a “health insurance down payment” program designed to preserve the individual mandate at the heart of the Affordable Care Act.

  • The candidates say they are in favor of replacing the “individual mandate,” with the “down payment plan.” Both require all Marylanders to be insured. But this permanent fix—to be proposed in the next General Assembly session—would allow Marylanders to opt into the state’s health exchange on their state income tax return, and it would place penalties on those uninsured, Dominque Maria Bonessi reports in WYPR-FM.

‘SNOOZE’ AD DRAWS SCORN: Ryan Miner of A Miner Detail blog writes about an online video released by the Maryland Republican Party that mocks the field of Democrats looking to challenge Gov. Larry Harry (R) in November is drawing scorn for including footage of Kevin Kamenetz, the late Baltimore County executive and gubernatorial candidate who died suddenly on May 10 from cardiac arrest. The video of the ad is embedded in the piece.

MONEY IN THE GOV’s RACE: Maryland Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous has pulled ahead of his rivals in fundraising, solidifying his position among the front-runners to challenge a far-better-funded Gov. Larry Hogan this fall, reports Steve Thompson in the Post. Neither Jealous nor his opponents have enough money to mount a significant media push in the expensive Washington media market ahead of the June 26 primary. Only one, Baltimore lawyer James Shea, has more than $1 million on hand.

ALEC ROSS PROFILED: Alec Ross has been a lot of things: a night-shift janitor, a Baltimore school teacher, a technology expert in the Obama administration and a best-selling author. Now he wants to be Maryland’s governor, writes Pamela Wood in the Sun’s candidate profile. The Baltimore resident was unknown in Maryland politics when he launched his campaign last summer, but Ross says his eclectic career path will make him a more inventive governor than the six major Democrats he hopes to defeat in the June 26 primary.

MO CO TO PLAY BIG ROLE: If there was any doubt that Montgomery County will play a huge role in the June 26 Democratic gubernatorial primary, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III is going on the airwaves next week with a 30-second TV ad geared toward Maryland’s largest jurisdiction, Josh Kurtz writes in Maryland Matters. The ad, set to debut on Memorial Day, features footage of U.S. Sen. Christopher Van Hollen (D) endorsing Baker at a news conference, interspersed with excerpts of the recent Washington Post endorsement of Baker in the primary.

GOP EXECS HAVE THE EDGE: Three Republicans who were elected to county executive positions in 2014 after serving in the General Assembly have significant fundraising advantages over their Democratic opponents as they seek second terms, newly-released campaign finance statements show. All three of the Republicans – Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman and Anne Arundel County Executive Steven R. Schuh – are currently favored to win reelection. But, writes Josh Kurtz in Maryland Matters, Kittleman in particular could be vulnerable if a national Democratic political wave rises in November.

SCHUH GAVE RIVAL $6,000 DAY BEFORE HE SWITCHED RACES: Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh gave County Councilman John Grasso $6,000 the day before the Glen Burnie Republican filed for Senate instead of challenging Schuh, Chase Cook reports in the Annapolis Capital. Grasso said the money was not the reason he chose to run for Senate, instead calling it a by-product of his decision.

BA CO EXEC MONEY RACE: In the race to become the next Baltimore County executive, Democrats are raising and spending much more money than Republicans, writes Pamela Wood in the Sun. As the June 26 primaries approach, Democratic candidate Jim Brochin has spent nearly $800,000 on television and radio ads, campaign finance reports filed Tuesday show. He had $61,000 in the bank. Democratic candidates Vicki Almond and Johnny Olszewski, Jr. are also sitting on large amounts of cash.

BROCHIN BETS BIG: Jim Brochin just slid towers of his chips onto the roulette table and told the croupier to spin the wheel. Brochin, a Democratic state senator running for Baltimore County executive, caught the attention of even those who don’t care about politics on Tuesday, when they saw he had committed more than 90% of his campaign money – more than $850,000 — to media and advertising, William Zorzi of Maryland Matters writes.

MO CO EXEC MONEY RACE: Montgomery County Councilman Roger Berliner has the most money on hand of any of the Democrats vying to be the next Montgomery County executive, according to campaign finance reports released Tuesday. But Berliner’s cash advantage may prove to be immaterial. It is dwarfed by the more than $1.7 million that wealthy Potomac businessman David Blair has already spent on the race, Bruce DePuyt of Maryland Matter reports.

ELRICH FIGHTS SOCIALIST LABEL: The moderator of a Democratic breakfast club may have been joking when she said Montgomery County executive candidate Marc Elrich had a poster of Che Guevara, a Cuban Marxist revolutionary leader, hanging in his County Council office. “You have gotten some heat for being a socialist,” Susan Heltemes said. “What can you say to a room full of Democrats that you merit the Democratic mantle to be the next executive?” Elrich laughed, denied having a poster of the communist revolutionary in his office and then answered the question. “I’m a registered Democrat, apparently that’s gotten missed in all of this,” Elrich responded. Glynis Kazanjian writes the story for MarylandReporter.

AT-LARGE MO CO COUNCIL RACE: A half-dozen contenders in the crowded primary field for County Council at-large have $100,000 or more in their campaign treasuries as the June 26 primary approaches, according to disclosure reports that were due midnight Tuesday at the State Board of Elections. A majority of those six candidates are participants in the county’s new public campaign financing system, Louis Peck of Bethesda Beat writes.

PG EXEC MONEY RACE: Prince George’s County executive candidate Angela Alsobrooks has four times as much to spend in the weeks before the Democratic primary as her main rival, Donna F. Edwards, according to campaign finance reports writes Rachel Chason in the Post. Alsobrooks raised $296,239 from Jan. 11 through May 15 and has $848,325 in the bank while Edwards — who has pledged not to take money from developers — said she raised $318,422 during the same reporting period, including a $180,000 loan to herself, and has $211,121 in the bank.

FREDERICK EXEC MONEY RACE: Del. Kathy Afzali continues to maintain the largest bankroll among county executive candidates, but current Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner (D) has raised more money thus far, Allen Etzler of the Frederick News Post reports. Afzali (R-District 4) received more than $30,000 between Jan. 11 and May 15, and currently holds a cash balance of more than $111,000. She also carries a $20,000 balance from a loan she made to her own campaign last year. Gardner also raised more than $30,000 in this reporting period, and has brought her cash balance to $100,535.05.

BATES OUTRAISES MOSBY IN CITY RACE: Ivan J. Bates is dominating the fundraising circuit and monopolizing media buys as the Baltimore state’s attorney race enters its final month before the Democratic Party primary. Bates has raised three times more money than incumbent Marilyn Mosby since mid-January, according to just-released campaign records, and spent eight times more on TV and radio advertising than Mosby and candidate Thiru Vignarajah combined, Mark Reutter of Baltimore Brew reports.