State Roundup, July 17, 2018

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STATE TO AID RETIREES: Maryland government retirees will get financial assistance from the state to help pay for medications when their prescription drug coverage moves from a state plan to the federal Medicare Part D program next year. Gov. Larry Hogan and General Assembly leadership announced a one-year transition program in which the state will reimburse all out-of-pocket drug costs exceeding $1,500. That is the limit under the current state plan, Andrea McDaniels reports in the Sun.

HOGAN WANTS TO EXPAND TUITION-FREE PROGRAM: Ovetta Wiggins and Danielle Douglas-Gabriel of the Post report that Gov. Larry Hogan (R) wants to expand a new scholarship program that will allow some students to go to community college tuition-free. On Monday, he said graduates of the College Promise program should be able to also attend four-year public state colleges at no cost. Maryland would become the second state, after New York, to guarantee free tuition for bachelor’s degrees for certain students who meet income and other eligibility requirements.

JEALOUS PLAN COULD HIT $24 BILLION: State-sponsored health insurance for all Marylanders such as the single-payer plan proposed by Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ben Jealous could cost $24 billion a year, forcing lawmakers to significantly raise taxes, according to a nonpartisan analysis. Such a cost would increase the state’s $44 billion operating budget by more than half. Luke Broadwater of the Sun reports that the analysis, drafted by the state’s Department of Legislative Services, said Maryland would have to levy a 10% payroll tax against every business and charge a $2,800 fee for every man, woman and child to pay for a new health care system in which doctors bill the state instead of private insurance companies.

‘LIKELY REPUBLICAN:’ With Democrat Ben Jealous — the more liberal of the top two finishers in the primary – winning the nomination to face Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and with Hogan’s strong approval ratings, Governing magazine has decided to move this race from leaning Republican to likely Republican.

ELRICH CERTIFIED WINNER: Montgomery County Council member Marc Elrich on Monday was certified as the winner in the Democratic county executive primary, clinching the top spot with a 79-vote lead over Potomac businessman David Blair, reports Bethany Rodgers in Bethesda Beat. The certified results show Elrich beating Blair by 37,529 votes to 37,450. Blair will have three days to file for a recount.

WHAT MO CO VOTERS WANTED: Adam Pagnucco of Seventh State analyzes Montgomery County voters and what they actually looked for when they went to the polls to vote for county executive this past primary.

RUSSIAN INVESTOR HAS ‘NO ACCESS:’ A State Board of Elections vendor whose ties to a Russian investor are under investigation said Monday the investor has no access to Maryland’s voting system. Luke Broadwater of the Sun reports that Annie Eissler, chief marketing officer for the vendor, ByteGrid LLC, sought to assuage worries from top Maryland leaders after the FBI last week alerted them to ties between the company and a Russian oligarch.

DEMS WANT HOGAN TO DIVEST: Top Maryland Democrats on Monday took aim at Gov. Larry Hogan’s business interests, saying during a conference call with reporters that he should divest from his family real estate brokerage and investment company to avoid potential conflicts of interest. Those on the call could not point to specific conflicts, but they said the governor should be more forthcoming with details about his businesses so that voters can be sure there are none, Steve Thompson of the Post reports.

WHAT TO DO WITH ONLINE SALES TAX: In the local opinion section of the Post, Carol Park, a senior policy analyst at the Maryland Public Policy Institute, writes that on June 21, the tide turned in favor of Maryland’s streetside businesses when the Supreme Court ruled that states can assess sales tax on goods sold online to state residents even if the online merchants are out of state. But what should Maryland do with what some lawmakers are looking at as a windfall? Give it back to the public. As state Sen. Andrew Serafini (R-Washington) argued, “Any federal action that creates additional revenue we should not treat as a windfall. … We should look for ways to give it back to the taxpayers.”

REGULATING AWAY COMPETITION: Maryland legislators are mistaken in believing that regulating away the competition is a solution to the fast-changing reality. One such example traditional rental car companies that want regulation to halt fast-growing car-sharing services. Carol Park, a senior policy analyst for the Maryland Public Policy Institute, writes in an op-ed for the Baltimore Business Journal that if politicians elect to shield traditional rental companies from competition, the rental companies will continue to offer poor service at inflated prices. Historically, rental companies have enjoyed a cozy relationship with the government, including receiving several tax benefits.

TRONE USED $11.5M OF HIS OWN FORTUNE: Potomac businessman David Trone pumped nearly $11.5 million of his personal fortune into his successful bid for the District 6 congressional nomination in last month’s eight-person Democratic primary, according to the latest filings with the Federal Election Commission, Louis Peck reports for Bethesda Beat.

HOWARD TO LIFT STATE OF EMERGENCY: Howard County officials said Monday that they will soon lift Ellicott City’s state of emergency, put in place in the aftermath of the May 27 deadly flash flood. The state of emergency, previously slated to last until the end of the month, will be lifted Friday by an executive order from County Executive Allan Kittleman, writes Kate Magill for the Howard County Times.

FCC CHIEF CALLS SINCLAIR PLAN ILLEGAL: Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.’s proposed acquisition of Tribune Media Co. suffered a major blow Monday after the Federal Communications Commission’s chairman said the deal violates federal laws. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement he has “serious concerns” about the $3.9 billion deal because Sinclair would continue to have control over certain TV stations even though it plans to divest them, Holden Wilen of the Baltimore Business Journal reports.

PRESIDENT URGED TO HONOR SLAIN JOURNALIST: Elisha Sauers and Danielle Ohl of the Annapolis Capital report that Maryland’s congressional delegation is urging the president to consider the nation’s highest civilian honor for Capital Gazette shooting victim Wendi Winters, who spent her last moment rushing a rampaging gunman.