State Roundup Feb. 22, 2010

Lots of slots news today as a state panel wants changes to Maryland’s gambling program, and vendors keep spending to win business. Reports raise new alarms about state pensions, and we gear up for an interesting budget hearing.

SLOTS: The state panel overseeing the rollout of slot machine gambling is urging changes to state law, which would allow owners to have a stake in more than one casino, Robbie Whelan writes for The Daily Record. Steve Fermier at WBAL Radio has audio.

A small group of slot machine makers is already jockeying for position as the state prepares to award contracts, Annie Linskey writes in The Sun. They’ve spend hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying for business that could come to $150 million.

Here’s a nifty chart that shows International Game Technology is the top spender, at $813,877.

And the Maryland Jockey Club, which operates Laurel Park racetrack and wants to put slots there, has spent more than $377,000 trying to derail a bid for machines at Arundel Mills mall. John Wagner has the story at The Washington Post.

Delmar, Del. officials are expected to vote tonight on whether to change town laws to make them more friendly to casinos, Earl Holland writes for The (Salisbury) Daily Times.

PENSION PROBLEMS: Maryland kept its AAA bond rating, but underneath the good news was the troubling undercurrent of continuing budget deficits in coming years and the mounting deficit in state pensions and retiree health benefits. Neither problem is likely to be addressed during this election year, Len Lazarick writes in his weekly column.

Jay Hancock writes a column in The Sun about Maryland’s mounting liabilities for teacher and employee pensions. He asks, but doesn’t get a lot of answers when he asks former governors and Gov. Martin O’Malley how things got so bad.

BUDGET HEARING: Hayley Peterson at The Washington Examiner previews Tuesday’s joint budget hearing in the General Assembly, where Republicans (at least from the House) will outline their ideas for cutting the budget. Kenny Burns at Maryland Politics Today has an audio preview.

STEELE QUESTIONS: Paul West of The Sun reports that national Republican Chairman Michael Steele spent about $188,000 on legal bills during his first year on the job. The specific purpose of the spending, which came from a state campaign account for the Lieutenant Governor cum U.S. Senate candidate, wasn’t disclosed. West writes that this is an apparent violation of campaign finance law.

The news set off a flurry of activity in the blogosphere, with Steve Lebowitz at The Daily Kos questioning whether other media outlets would dig deeper to see just what Steele was paying for. Adam Pagnucco at Maryland Politics Watch says he brought up this issue a month ago, and has more questions.

SWAIM-STALEY VOTE: Sen. Anthony Muse of Prince George’s County held up a vote to confirm Acting Transportation Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley on Friday, Michael Dresser writes in his blog for The Baltimore Sun.  John Wagner at the Post writes that some Senators believe that black members of the chamber are using the confirmation vote to discuss personnel issues at the department.

JOBS CREDIT: Businesses that hire unemployed workers could get a $5,000 reward this year, under a proposal advanced Friday by a Senate budget panel. Erich Wagner has the story for

TENURE CHANGES: Nick Anderson and Michael Birnbaum write that O’Malley’s effort at education reform could rankle teachers as he seeks union support for re-election. Liz Bowie of The Sun also writes about the debate over whether to extend the amount of time it takes teachers to earn tenure, as proposed by O’Malley.

UMB AUDIT: It was former law school dean Karen Rothenberg who received $410,000 in questionable payments from the school, Childs Walker of The Sun reports in a follow-up to last week’s critical legislative audit of the University of Maryland, Baltimore. And check out our post on the potential impact on the school’s budget.

PODCAST: They’re back! Some bills just never go away. Maryland Public Television’s Lou Davis and State House Reporter Tom LoBianco join Andy to talk about some of the week’s bills that seem like repeats from last year.

BOND BILLS: Liam Farrell with The (Annapolis) Capital writes that the state continues to steer cash toward local projects, even in a tight budget year.

ROAD ISSUES: Some drivers are irritated by the traffic tie-ups that come along with road projects that come along with stimulus spending, but a new national report gives Maryland high marks for its use of the federal cash. Tiffany March has the story for Capital News Service.

The Sun’s editorial page argues that the state needs to stop raiding its special transportation fund to pay for regular expenses.

STREET RACING: A bill before the General Assembly would stiffen penalties for drivers who race on the streets, Kathleen Miller reports for the Associated Press.

HOWARD RACES: Larry Carson at The Sun looks at Republican hopes to win over Howard County using both local and national issues.

AGGRESSIVE DRIVERS: And what do the “aggressive driving” signs in Howard County mean? The Washington Post’s answer man takes a look.

ELECTRIC CHOICE: Frederick County Del. Sue Hecht is pushing to get more customers to shop around for electricity, Meg Tully writes for the Frederick News-Post.

UNEMPLOYMENT: Arnold Platou of The (Hagerstown) Herald-Mail examines the effect of rising unemployment taxes for businesses in Washington County.

COURTROOM BAN: A state judiciary panel could act soon to ban computers and phones from courtrooms, Tricia Bishop writes for The Sun. This would prevent a repeat of all the tweeting that took place during former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon’s embezzlement trial.

USMH: The University system of Maryland at Hagerstown is facing a nearly 15 percent cut for next year, Erin Julius writes for the Herald-Mail.

SHORE BUDGET TOUR: Democratic delegates are touring the Eastern Shore to talk about state finances, Brian Shane writes for The Daily Times. They are hopeful that state revenues are beginning to recover after prolonged decline.

CENSUS COUNT: Brian Hughes at the Washington Examiner writes that some counties are trying to count illegal immigrants as a way to boost federal funding.

CAR INSURANCE: Carroll County Del. Tanya Shewell is pushing a bill that would make people with two drunken driving convictions carry more expensive car insurance policies, Adam Bednar writes in the Carroll County Times.

(EHRLICH) BUDGET: The O’Malley Watch blog lists a number of spending issues that its writer believes explain former Gov. Bob Ehrlich’s larger budget in his final year in office. The post does not mention Ehrlich by name.

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