State Roundup, September 4, 2018

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STATE SURPLUS HITS $500M: The state of Maryland ended the last fiscal year with a surplus of more than $500 million, Comptroller Peter Franchot announced. The Sun’s Luke Broadwater writes that strong returns from the state’s capital gains tax returns helped revenues come in about $339 million — or about 2% — higher than expected, while state agencies spent less than their individual budgets to achieve the $504 million surplus.

LEADING ON SCHOOL SAFETY: As students ready to head back to school, a recently-released report from the state says Maryland is leading the way on school safety, Allen Etzler of the Frederick News Post reports. The Maryland Safe To Learn Act of 2018, passed in the most recent legislative session, provides a roadmap to improving school safety, though many of the changes and funding required by the bill won’t take effect until future school years, according to the evaluation on school safety filed by the Maryland Department of State Police and Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention.

6,000 ADDED TO TEACHER ROLLS: As schools open today, thousands of new teachers — at least 6,000 — will join the state’s teaching ranks, recruited from as far away as Puerto Rico and Texas to fill positions created by a growing teacher shortage. In Baltimore County alone, 900 teachers were hired this year, Liz Bowie reports for the Sun.

HEAT CLOSES SCHOOLS: A heat wave forecast this week throughout the region has forced the closing of 10 schools in Baltimore County as other districts prepared to deal with temperatures over 90 degrees in each of the first three days of the new public school year. In Baltimore City, the school system announced via Twitter that schools without air-conditioning would release three hours early Tuesday. More than 60 school buildings lack air conditioning or have “inadequate cooling,” according to the city schools website, Justin Fenton and Doug Donovan report in the Sun.

RIDERS DROP, STATE INVESTMENTS IN TRANSIT RISE: Maryland’s transit agencies plan to invest heavily in Baltimore metro area rail lines, despite the number of commuters using the services recently trending down, Adam Bednar of the Daily Record reports. Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Transit Administration plans on funding $900 million in upgrades to metro subway and light rail systems’ infrastructure over the next several years. Improvements include spending $400 million on 78 new Metro Subway cars and $150 million to renovate the state’s fleet of 53 Light Rail vehicles.

HOGAN’s RETIREMENT EXEMPTION TOO COSTLY? On the campaign trail, Gov. Larry Hogan often talks about how he wants lower taxes for retirees — including exempting 100% of retirement income from Maryland taxes. Hogan has enacted tax cuts on the retirement income of veterans and law enforcement officers. But a blanket exemption for retirees has proved too costly, Luke Broadwater of the Sun reports.

JEALOUS’s PRISON REDUCTION PLAN REDUNDANT? Democratic candidate for governor Ben Jealous often talks about his plan to reform the state’s criminal justice system by shrinking the prison population by 30% and saving an estimated $660 million from the state’s budget. Jealous has said reducing the prison population by about a third could be achieved within a “few years.” But elected officials who have worked on the state’s Justice Reinvestment Act — which is credited with helping reduce Maryland’s prison population — question whether such a quick reduction can be achieved on top of the state’s already rapid decline in incarceration, Luke Broadwater of the Sun reports.

LABOR DAY CAMPAIGNING: Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and his Democratic challenger, former NAACP president Ben Jealous, sweated their way through Labor Day gatherings on Monday, with the election now just nine weeks away. Hogan stumped at parades in Kensington and Gaithersburg while Jealous hit the Labor Day parades in Greenbelt and Gaithersburg and then a Democratic picnic in Ellicott City, Josh Kurtz writes in Maryland Matters.

POLICE CLASSES ON MANAGING PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES: In a column for the Post, Theresa Vargas writes about the Learning to LEAD program, which is being run through a state grant awarded to two faculty members at Loyola University in Maryland. It aspires to make people with disabilities educators, capable of acting out scenarios with police officers who can then take those lessons into the field with them. This program was created following the death of Ethan Saylor of Frederick County in 2013. Saylor had Down syndrome.

PERRY IS HIGHEST PAID LOBBYIST: Timothy Perry of government relations firm Perry, White, Ross & Jacobson LLC remains the highest-paid lobbyist in Maryland, Maria Sieron of the Baltimore Business Journal reports. Perry’s compensation totaled $2.53 million from Nov. 1, 2016 to Oct. 31, 2017, according to the Maryland State Ethics Commission. His clients include Airbnb, AT&T, Beatty Development Group, Greenberg Gibbons, Howard Hughes Corp., Royal Farms and Washington Redskins. Prior to his involvement in government relations, Perry served as chief of staff to state Senate President Mike Miller.

DAY TO SERVE: Gov. Larry Hogan issued a proclamation declaring Sept. 11 to Oct. 10 as “Day to Serve” month in Maryland, according to the AP. As part of the announcement, he encouraged all Maryland citizens to choose a day to participate in a volunteer activity. The Day to Serve initiative includes Maryland; Washington, D.C.; Virginia; and West Virginia, each of which tracks statistics such as number of volunteers, hours served and pounds of food donated in a friendly competition.

GUN TASK FORCE MEMBER QUESTIONED: A retired federal judge is among seven members tapped Friday to sit on a legislative panel investigating the circumstances surrounding the Baltimore Police Gun Trace Task Force corruption scandal. But legislative leaders already are re-evaluating one of those picks, after it was revealed he had represented at least three of the convicted officers in workers’ compensation claims, Justin Fenton of the Sun reports.

OPINION: VOTE AGAINST FROSH: Christopher Tomlinson, a protester of Attorney General Brian Frosh, opines in an opinion column for the Carroll County Times that Frosh’s litigiousness against the Trump administration means he is taking his eye of the ball when it comes to Maryland issues. He urges voters to cast their ballots for Frosh’s Republican opponent, Craig Wolf.

PARTY & MARTY BUILDING: Goucher pollster Mileah Kromer writes in a column for the Sun that former “Gov. Martin O’Malley has spent the last year supporting candidates in down-ballot races across the country. … he’s proselytized to volunteers and local party leaders — in places like in Lower Gwynedd, Pa., Waukesha County, Wis., and Thermopolis, Wyo. — that the best way for Democrats to change the direction of the country is to win back the states. Of course, it’s easy to view Mr. O’Malley’s march on the states as merely attempt to get back on the road to the White House. … But party-building and Marty-building are not mutually exclusive endeavors.”

MO CO’s DIFFERENT EXEC RACE: Jennifer Barrios of the Post writes about the unusually hotly contested race for Montgomery County executive. In a heavily blue jurisdiction where the Democratic primary has decided the outcome of the county executive’s race since 1978, the run-up to November’s general election promises to be a little different. Longtime Democrat Nancy Floreen has broken from the party, using developer and real estate money to mount an independent campaign to best Democrat Marc Elrich, a progressive backed by unions and party leaders. Meanwhile, the Republican candidate, Robin Ficker, has access to serious cash for the first time, thanks to the county’s public campaign financing system.

CONTROVERSY IN ARUNDEL: The Anne Arundel County Council returns today with a pair of controversial items — an abortion resolution and legislation that sets restrictions on locations for plasma centers and methadone clinics, Chase Cook reports for the Annapolis Capital.

SEN. McCAIN LAID TO REST: Sam and Joan Smith were among the few people near the United States Naval Academy around noon Sunday, where Sen. John McCain’s funeral procession was expected to pass, and waited. By 1:30 p.m., hundreds of people — with chairs, American flags and signs — lined the sidewalks of Annapolis hoping to pay homage to the late politician, Brittany Britto writes in the Sun.