State Roundup, September 12, 2018

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RETIREES SUE STATE ON DRUG BENEFIT CHANGE: Four retired state employees sued the state Monday, charging that changes to their prescription drug benefits are illegal, reports Danielle Gaines in Maryland Matters. The suit, filed in Baltimore City Circuit Court, says that a series of legislative reforms in the wake of federal Medicare reform in 2003 changed their eligibility in violation of state law. A legislative briefing about an impending change to prescription drug benefits for state government retirees, scheduled for Thursday, was abruptly canceled Monday in the wake of the suit.

PATAPSCO DAM TO COME DOWN: If it ever stops raining, one of the biggest remaining barriers to fish migration in the Chesapeake Bay watershed will finally come down, Tim Wheeler of the Bay Journal writes in MarylandReporter. Bloede Dam, a long-dormant hydroelectric facility near Baltimore, is supposed to be breached with explosives any day now, the first major step toward opening up Maryland’s Patapsco River to river herring, shad and eels.

REGION PREPS FOR FLORENCE: The Washington region is preparing for the potential of torrential rain and winds strong enough to bring down trees and power lines as Hurricane Florence approaches the area. The powerful Category 4 storm appeared set to take a swipe at the East Coast as early as Thursday night, with a potential landfall in the Carolinas, according to the most current forecasts, Luz Lazo reports in the Post. The District, Maryland and Virginia have all declared states of emergency as the region braces for the storm. “This is a major storm system, and it will likely cause significant damage and disruption to the state highway system,” Maryland State Highway Administrator Gregory Slater said. “The ground is saturated so additional rain is likely to runoff rapidly.”

  • Sun reporters write that as inevitable as Hurricane Florence’s landfall in the Carolinas appears, the storm’s meandering path beyond that — and the foot or two of rain it could dump — remained uncertain Tuesday as preparations and evacuations continued. Forecasts were suggesting that the same force steering Florence toward the Southeast coast could prevent it from significantly affecting Maryland, instead pushing it slowly toward Georgia or Tennessee.

BROWN ERRS ON HOGAN CLAIM: U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown (D) has accused Gov. Larry Hogan (R) of sending Maryland National Guard officers to the U.S.-Mexico border without being asked to do so by the Defense Department or a fellow governor. But a briefing paper that was provided to Brown’s office last spring contradicts his claim, Bruce DePuyt of Maryland Matters reports.

JEALOUS, POLLSTER TRADE BARBS: A well-known Maryland pollster and the Democratic gubernatorial nominee are trading barbs over recent voter surveys of the governor’s race, reports Bryan Sears for the Daily Record. Patrick Gonzales, director of Annapolis-based Gonzales Research and Media Services, expressed surprise over recent comments made by Ben Jealous, the Democratic nominee for governor, regarding a nearly one-month-old poll. “What surprises me is that he is still talking about it,” Gonzales said. “I would think he should start talking about things that voters care about.”

SELF-SERVING PITCHES: In a commentary for his Political Maryland blog, Barry Rascovar writes that, “You would think politicians had learned to stay far away from transparently self-serving campaign pitches that make them sound like used-car salesmen — or worse. Not so for Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and Democratic nominee Ben Jealous, now engaged in a crass battle of ‘Stupid Pet Tricks'(ala David Letterman) that at times border on ‘fake news.’”

TAXING MO CO’s WEALTHLY 1%: In an opinion piece for Bethesda Beat, Adam Pagnucco writes that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous has said he would raise income taxes by 1% on the wealthiest 1% of Maryland taxpayers to pay for new spending. What would that mean for MoCo? Apply a one-point increase to the $1.4 billion that the 1% are currently paying and the new revenue would total around $230 million. That’s peanuts compared to the state’s current $17.6 billion in general fund revenues and the billions more Jealous would like to spend.

HOGAN WEBSITE MOCKS JEALOUS: Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s re-election campaign this week launched a website featuring a Jeopardy-style game show that mocks Democratic challenger Ben Jealous as embracing reckless tax-and-spend policies. The site, MDCantAffordJealous.com, purports to tally the costs of Jealous’ policy proposals — including plans to expand health care, provide free college tuition and revive the Red Line light rail in Baltimore — and pins the total at more than $35 billion annually. The state’s operating budget is about $44 billion, Luke Broadwater of the Sun is reporting.

BIZ GROUP BACKS 16 IN STATE SENATE RACES: The National Federation of Independent Business announced this week that its Maryland political action committee has added 16 candidates to its list of legislative endorsements, Josh Kurtz writes for Maryland Matters.

BA CO EXEC HOPEFULS SQUARE OFF ON EDUCATION: The two men vying to become the next Baltimore County executive faced off Tuesday in their first general election debate, each touting himself as the best choice to improve an education system that has seen recent disputes over aging facilities and spending priorities, the Sun’s Pamela Wood reports. Democrat Johnny Olszewski Jr., a former state delegate who taught in the county school system, has emphasized plans for universal preschool and expanding access to tuition-free community college. He called himself “the education candidate in this race.” Republican Al Redmer Jr. questioned the wisdom of spending tax dollars on such programs, but said he would work to turn around the condition of some county schools. The article is topped by a video clip from the debate.

  • John Lee of WYPR-FM reports that, when asked about whether the county should offer voluntary universal prekindergarten for students, Olszewski said he’s all in. “There’s nothing better that we can spend our resources on than giving our kids the best start possible,” Olszewski said. Redmer countered while everyone likes the idea of universal prekindergarten, it’s a question of what the county can afford. “I don’t believe we’ve got the money,” Redmer said. “We don’t have the borrowing capacity. We’ve got trailers now. I don’t believe we have the space to put them in.”

WEINSTEIN BACKS KITTLEMAN IN HOWARD: Howard County Councilman Jon Weinstein said Tuesday he will not mount a write-in campaign to retain the seat he lost in the primary election by just six votes. Also, the Democrat told C4 on WBAL-AM, he is endorsing Republican County Executive Allan Kittleman for re-election. It wasn’t about sour grapes, he said, rather about the issues and what was best for Weinstein’s district, which includes Ellicott City. “I came to really a simple conclusion and simply the right thing for me is to endorse Allan for his re-election for county executive.” Weinstein said.

FREDERICK COUNTY COUNCIL CANDIDATES FORUM: With less than two months remaining until the general election in November, 13 of the 15 candidates on the ballot for Frederick County Council positions gave their views on growth and county government at a forum Tuesday, Allen Etzler writes in the Frederick News Post.