State Roundup March 8, 2010

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Today’s roundup features a strange alliance on Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s re-election bid, a smaller November advantage for O’Malley, and the deadline for bills in the General Assembly is today.

MIKULSKI: Paul West of The Sun finds that advocates in Alabama are trying to help Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s re-election campaign from across state lines. Her chairmanship of the Senate panel that controls NASA’s purse strings appears to be the key, as America debates the future of its moon landing program. Jay Hancock writes in his Sun blog that the arrangement shows “bipartisan sleeze.”

Mikulski held a grand opening for her Baltimore campaign headquarters on Sunday, denying blogosphere reports that she was planning to retire instead of run this fall. John Wagner blogs for The Washington Post. saw Mikulski at a weekend fundraiser, where she said she was ready to “kick butt.”

EXPRESS TOLL: The state is significantly scaling back its project to build express toll lanes on Interstate 95 near White Marsh, Michael Dresser reports for The Sun. Some entrance and exit ramps will be eliminated, and the length of the toll component reduced.

O’MALLEY VS. EHRLICH: A prominent national handicapper has downgraded Gov. Martin O’Malley’s chances in a potential campaign against former Gov. Bob Ehrlich, from “safe” to “narrow advantage.” Annie Linskey notes on The Sun’s politics blog that the opinion is based on a poll from last month. O’Malley’s camp had previously cited an internal poll giving him a 10 point advantage, John Wagner writes for the Post.

BILL DEADLINE: Monday is the last day that lawmakers can introduce bills without a special suspension of legislative rules, Rob Lang reports for WBAL Radio in his weekly preview.

MANDATES AND FISCAL RESTRAINT: The tug-of-war over state spending was on vivid display at the State House Wednesday, with most of the participants tugging for more money or less cutting, but there were also some significant yanks for fiscal restraint. Len Lazarick writes his weekly column for

DRESSER: Michael Dresser at The Sun has some good tidbits on his blog. He points out that legislative analysts are predicting toll increases, and outlines $26 million in federal transit grants for the state.

SLOTS: John Wagner at The Washington Post describes how the state’s slots gambling program is struggling to get off the ground, even though casinos were supposed to begin opening this spring. He also wrote in a blog that opponents of a proposed slots casino at Arundel Mills mall say they have submitted enough signatures to force a vote on zoning for the project this fall.

ANTHEM PLATES: The Senate approved a bill that would put “Home of Our National Anthem” on Maryland license plates, The Associated Press reports.

UMB AUDIT: The Sun’s editorial page takes a look at the $410,000 in questionable payments for former University of Maryland School of Law Dean Karen Rothenberg, and says there are still unanswered questions.

PODCAST: Some of the most talked-about issues in the General Assembly this year may not amount to much in this election year. In our weekly podcast, we talk about why we might not see much action on issues such as gay marriage, gambling and taxes.

TEXTING BAN: Ben Giles of Capital News Service writes that advocates lack statistical evidence in their quest to strengthen laws banning texting while driving.

KRATOVIL VOTE: Democrats in Congress won’t be able to count on the support of Rep. Frank Kratovil as they try to push a health care bill into law. Graham Moomaw has the story for Capital News Service.

TRANSMISSION LINE: Frederick County residents are gearing up to fight a massive electric transmission line that would make its way through the southern part of the County, Ed Waters Jr. writes for the Frederick News-Post.

ARSENIC: Baltimore Brew notes a bill backed by Attorney General Doug Gansler that would ban the use of arsenic in chicken feed.

TRAFFIC COURT: Dresser at The Sun writes a column about a bill that would eliminate automatic hearings for traffic tickets, pointing out the testy exchanges between a House committee chairman and police chiefs.

LIBRARY UNIONS: Heather Keel at The (Hagerstown) Herald-Mail writes about local libraries’ opposition to a bill that would allow county library employees to unionize.

ENERGY BILL: Advocates are backing a bill that would require the state to adopt an energy “blueprint,” Sharahn Boykin writes for The (Salisbury) Daily Times.

TAX RANK: The Tax Foundation ranks Maryland 45 out of 50 for its tax environment, the second straight year the state has received the poor ranking, Ed Waters Jr. writes for the News-Post.

DRUNK DRIVING: Ashley Halsey III writes a lengthy description of a hearing last week on a proposal that would require breathalyzer ignition interlock systems for first-time drunk driving offenders. Many of the lawmakers at the hearing were on Facebook, the article says.

CHURCH HELP: Meg Tully and Ron Cassie have a story in the News-Post about how local lawmakers are trying to help a historic black church stay in operation.

TUITION THAW: Don Aines at The Herald-Mail talks to people around Western Maryland about the likely end to a tuition freeze at state colleges and universities this year, and what a 3 percent hike could mean.

GROWTH PLAN: The state is planning events this week to highlight efforts to help localities plan for future development, Tim Wheeler writes for The Sun. The first one is in Carroll County, Marc Shapiro writes for the Carroll County Times.

ALCOHOL TAX: Erin Julius at The Herald-Mail writes that some businesses are opposing an alcohol tax hike proposed in the General Assembly.

HOMEOWNER CAMPAIGNS:The Senate killed a bill that aimed at protecting homeowners’ or tenants’ abilities to contact neighbors about campaigns or other issues, The Associated Press reports.

MTA: Brian Griffiths at Red Maryland reacts to our story about the Maryland Transit Administration’s budget squeeze for next year, and says a key to success for the agency would be to raise farebox recovery rates.

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