State Roundup, August 8, 2018

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PA SAYS IT COULD DO MORE FOR BAY: Pennsylvania officials on Tuesday conceded to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and other state leaders in the Chesapeake Bay watershed that the commonwealth has not done its part to reduce pollution washing into waterways, Scott Dance of the Sun is reporting. Patrick McDonnell, Pennsylvania’s secretary of environmental protection, said that will change as a target to restore Chesapeake ecosystems by 2025 approaches.

MD SENATORS WARN OF ELECTION THREAT: Less than three months before early voting begins, Maryland’s U.S. senators have joined the chorus of elected officials warning that the November elections could be threatened by a Russian oligarch’s stake in a firm that manages some of the state’s most critical electoral systems. FBI agents revealed last month that a contractor that manages many of Maryland’s election systems has ties to Vladimir Potanin, an oligarch close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Doug Donovan reports in the Sun.

STATE PENSION FUND EARNS 8%: For the second year in a row, Maryland’s retirement and pension system beat its target return on investment, earning 8.06% and raising the fund that pays for retired teachers and state employees to almost $52 billion, a gain of $2.8 billion, Len Lazarick of MarylandReporter reports. According to a national tracking firm, Maryland’s return was about average for large public funds, largely fueled by returns on public and private equity stocks.

WHITE HOUSE INVOLVED IN FBI HQ ACTION: Jonathan O’Connell of the Post reports that the administrator of the General Services Administration, which manages the FBI headquarters project, may have misled Congress about White House involvement in the project, according to a portion of a soon-to-be published report from the agency’s inspector general. Last year, the GSA and the FBI scrapped a long-delayed plan to build an FBI headquarters campus in the Washington suburbs – including in Prince George’s County – in favor of a proposal to build a smaller headquarters in downtown D.C. and relocate some staff to Alabama, Idaho and West Virginia.

FROSH URGES KEEPING OFFSHORE DRILLING RULES: The U.S. Department of the Interior’s proposed relaxation of regulations designed to prevent another catastrophic offshore-drilling explosion could prove disastrous for the mid-Atlantic shoreline, Maryland’s attorney general wrote in a letter this week to regulators, Steve Lash of the Daily Record reports. Brian E. Frosh stated it would be “arbitrary and capricious” for the department to ease the regulatory framework while a significant number of the safety regulations promulgated in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico have not yet gone into effect.

ONLINE SALES TAX PLAN: Some online retailers could soon pay state sales taxes under new regulations proposed by Comptroller Peter Franchot, Bryan Sears of the Daily Record reports. The new sales tax regulations — less than a full page — would impose a 6% sales tax on online retailers who either have a minimum of 200 transactions in Maryland or sales on taxable goods and services in the state exceeding $100,000 annually.

BROCHIN EXPECTED TO BACK HOGAN: State Sen. James Brochin, the Blue Dog Democrat who lost his chance in June to be his party’s nominee for Baltimore County executive by a mere 17 votes, is poised to endorse Republican Gov. Larry Hogan in his reelection bid Wednesday morning, William Zorzi of Maryland Matters writes.

BUSINESS MONTHLY SOLD: The Business Monthly, a 25-year-old newspaper serving Howard and Anne Arundel counties, was sold this week to media executive Daniel Medinger of Ellicott City, who will take control Sept. 1. The current owners, publisher Becky Mangus and general manager Cathy Yost who have owned the paper for 16 years, will continue to work with the publication during a transition period. “The future of community papers is very good,” Medinger said. “I look forward to working with the business community and local government, and nonprofits as well as our readers, to make a very special news source.” Medinger is president and owner of Advertising Media Plus in Columbia, and has been politically active. He ran for the House of Delegates in District 9B in the Democratic primary this year. MarylandReporter.com’s Len Lazarick is a longtime contributor to the Business Monthly.

EXPAND CHILD CARE AID: The editorial board for the Sun writes that Gov. Larry Hogan and the General Assembly could scarcely have found a better way to help working families now and for generations to come than their efforts this year to expand Maryland’s child care subsidies. After years of atrophy, the subsidies were far too restrictive in their eligibility requirements and not nearly generous enough to allow families to access the vast majority of high-quality child care in the state. Addressing both those issues will boost the economic security of working families today by making it easier for parents to get and hold jobs and will improve the prospects of the next generation by making sure children get to kindergarten ready to learn.

STATE OFFICE MOVE COULD HARM CITY: A prominent commercial real estate professional argues moving the Maryland Insurance Administration from downtown Baltimore will cost taxpayers money, writes Adam Bednar for the Daily Record. Robert A. Manekin, a senior vice president at JLL, contends moving the agency from the Central Business District to Montgomery Park appears to save Maryland money if the only consideration is occupancy cost. But when reviewing factors such as the impact on downtown property values, he said, the move doesn’t produce the intended results.

CLEAN ENERGY INDUSTRY: In an op-ed for Maryland Matters, Del. Cheryl Glenn writes that the clean energy industry in Maryland is robust and growing and should not be impeded.

ARUNDEL SOLAR PROJECT MORATORIUM ENDS: As the eight-month moratorium on solar panel projects nears its end, Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh announced Tuesday legislation strengthening approval requirements for larger solar panel developments. But, reports Chase Cook in the Annapolis Capital, the finer details of these changes have not been made public. The county has not released the related legislation.