State Roundup, November 10, 2010

LAUREL PARK FUTURE: The future of Laurel Park was further clouded after the racetrack’s minority owner, Penn National Gaming, said it supports plans to eliminate live horse racing there. Then Frank Stronach, chairman of Jockey Club’s parent company, reversed course and said he would work to save the tracks, Hanah Cho reports for the Sun.

Penn National said it may seek state approval for a slots parlor at the Anne Arundel County race track, reports Daniel Sernovitz of the Baltimore Business Journal .

Sun editorialists write that Stronach’s announcement that he’ll keep Laurel open for racing looks premature and doesn’t erase the thoroughbred industry’s problems. The editorial board for the Annapolis Capital says don’t blame Laurel Park’s decision to cut back horse racing on those who voted for slots.

NO SLOTS BIDS: Tuesday’s deadline for bids on a license to operate a slots parlor at the state-financed Rocky Gap Lodge in Western Maryland came and went without a single submission — the second time that gambling at the struggling resort has failed to draw a qualified proposal, Nicole Fuller writes for the Sun.

Ben Mook of the Daily Record writes that the state reworked the proposal to try to garner interest from casino developers to not only bid on the license, but also purchase the struggling resort from the state.

Now, the Maryland Video Lottery Terminal Location Commission will need to decide whether to try for a third offering, wait for the economy to improve, or to scrap the site entirely, Daniel Sernovitz reports for the BBJ.

PENSIONS IN FOREFRONT: Maryland’s huge pension problem should be front and center in this upcoming legislative session, Gov. Martin O’Malley said Tuesday, as officials who oversee the state’s system made recommendations to a panel of state lawmakers. WBAL-TV reports.

INSURANCE REFORM: Maryland health insurers say that federal health care reform would lead to higher insurance premiums, higher administrative costs and put some insurance brokers and agents out of business, Barbara Pash of writes.

BUDGET GAP: The Salisbury Daily Times reports that the Department of Legislative Services will outline the state’s fiscal condition to legislators who sit on committees tasked with helping to balance the budget. Previous estimates have put Maryland’s budget deficit for the next fiscal year at roughly $1.2 billion.

PRISON AUDIT: State prison officials told legislators reviewing a very negative audit of their Baltimore region financial operations that personnel problems helped cause large gaps in financial accountability, but they were making changes, reports Megan Poinski of

TRANSIT MESS: Sun opinionators write that crowded roads, insufficient transit service and a failure to invest enough in transportation are hurting Maryland’s economy as surely as any tax increase.

CALL HIM PREZ: In a rather bitter sounding op-ed piece, Justin Snow of the University of Maryland’s student newspaper the Diamondback predicts that O’Malley has set his sites on the presidency.

VAN HOLLEN’S NEXT STEP: Ben Pershing of the Washington Post writes that, with no obvious avenue to remain in an elected party leadership position, Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen has set his sights on another prominent post — the top Democratic slot on the House Budget Committee.

STEELE ALTERNATIVE: There is an effort underway among prominent RNC members to recruit a serious alternative to Chairman Michael Steele, Maryland’s former lieutenant governor, if and when he decides to stand for a second term early next year, Chris Cilliza writes for the Washington Post.

ASTLE LEADS: Sen. John Astle, D-Annapolis, was leading Republican Ron Elfenbein by less than 800 votes after Election Day, but absentee ballot counts have expanded his margin to almost 1,000 votes, reports Liam Farrell of the Annapolis Capital.

MATHIAS LEADS: Brian Shane of the Salisbury Daily Times writes that although Del. Jim Mathias still holds a narrow lead in the Lower Shore state Senate race, about 1,900 absentee and provisional ballots remain outstanding — votes that theoretically could swing the razor-thin margin of victory toward challenger Michael James.

PUBLIC INPUT: Julie Bykowicz of the Sun blogs that Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler, who last week appointed a commission to study campaign finance in Maryland, is seeking public input on the issue.

AIDES PROMOTED: A week after the election, Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold promoted two aides who worked on his campaign, giving more than $20,000 in raises and reviving a job Leopold had called redundant and eliminated when he took office four years ago, reports Erin Cox of the Annapolis Capital.

KAMENETZ IN PLAY: Newly elected Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz will start to play chess with the offices that he will take over, and Bryan Sears of speculates on his moves.

NEXT HO CO EXEC: Since newly re-elected Howard County Executive Ken Ulman will be term-limited from running again, others are already thinking ahead four years, Larry Carson reports for the Sun.

SIGNS OF ELECTIONS: Tyler Waldman of reports that some (campaign) signs of the election still remain in Baltimore County.

WELCH TO RETIRE: City Councilwoman Agnes Welch, 85, who has represented Southwest Baltimore for more than a quarter century, is planning to retire before the end of the year, Matthew Hay Brown blogs for the Sun.

MOCO BUDGET GAPS:  Sen. Richard Madaleno of Kensington has proposed a bill for the upcoming General Assembly session that would allow the Montgomery County school system to charge for transporting students to magnet schools and immersion and other programs. It is his attempt to preserve the programs while helping to alleviate the school system’s budget crunch, writes Andrew Ujifusa of the Gazette.

Montgomery voters’ rejection of a proposal to charge for ambulance rides might not result in cuts to the county’s budget, as County Executive Ike Leggett warned it would, according to some council members. Erin Cunningham of the Gazette has the story.

MAYOR RESIGNS: Hampstead Mayor Haven Shoemaker will resign from his position Nov. 20. Council vice president Christopher Nevin, a former mayor, will fill out the remainder of his term. Alisha George of the Carroll County Times wrote he resigned because he was elected as a county commissioner.

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