State Roundup, July 23, 2019

Print More

FEDS AWARD $125M FOR HOWARD TUNNEL FIX: Maryland will receive $125 million in long-sought federal funding to expand the Howard Street Tunnel under downtown — a project that would eliminate a critical bottleneck to the Port of Baltimore’s booming container business, Colin Campbell and Pamela Wood of the Sun report.

STATE TO GET $5.7M IN EQUIFAX DATA BREACH: Sarah Skidmore Sell  and Ken Sweet of the AP report that Equifax will pay at least $700 million — and potentially much more — to settle lawsuits over a 2017 data breach that exposed the Social Security numbers and similar sensitive information of roughly half of the U.S. population. The state of Maryland will receive $5.7 million as part of the settlement.

HOGAN PROPOSES MORE TOLL CHANGES: Gov. Larry Hogan proposed changes Friday to the state’s tolls that he said will result in about $5.6 million in annual savings for drivers, but he offered only scant details of his plan, Pamela Wood of the Sun reports. Hogan’s plan is not an across-the-board cut in tolls, as he pushed through in 2015.

TRANSIT SHORTFALL: The Maryland Transit Administration faces a funding shortfall of more than $2 billion over the next decade — money that is needed to keep the agency’s transit systems running safely, in compliance with regulatory requirements, and enhanced with new technology and mobility options, according to the agency’s first Capital Needs Inventory, Colin Campbell reports in the Sun. The report, required as part of last year’s Maryland Metro/Transit Funding Act following the emergency shutdown of the Baltimore Metro Subway, identifies $5.7 billion in necessary spending between now and 2028.

  • Critics said the $2.058 billion gap — divided evenly between projected “state of good repair” expenses ($1.031 billion) and “enhancements” ($1.027 billion) — reflects a failure to properly invest in the state’s transit systems, Bruce DePuyt writes in Maryland Matters. “What it shows is what the General Assembly and transportation advocates have been saying for years, which is that [the Maryland Department of Transportation] is not sufficiently investing in [the Maryland Transit Administration’s] capital infrastructure,” said Del. Brooke Lierman (D-Baltimore City).

OPINION: STATE MUST BAN CHLORPYRIFOS: The editorial board of the Sun is taking the EPA to task for refusing to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide also known as Lorsbanthat its been linked to childhood brain damage. Although the Maryland General Assembly failed to ban chlorpyrifos on the state level this past session in part to help farmers concerned about the spotted lanternfly, they may do so in the next session since Penn State Extension recommends a variety of other treatments, including squashing the bugs.

OPINION: FOR SINGLE-MEMBER DISTRICTS: In a column for Maryland Matters on single-member legislative districts, political science Ph.D candidate Richard DeShay Elliott writes that, “with Maryland’s multi-member districts, the costs of running a race and the time needed to cover the 125,000-plus population districts are too much for all but the most well-funded insurgent candidates. In many parts of the state, particularly Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, the only way to win is by joining the incumbent slate. This culture is deeply toxic and anti-democratic.”

FRANCHOT KICKS OFF TAX FREE WEEK: Shop Maryland Tax-Free Week doesn’t start until Aug. 11, but Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot visited Westminster a few days early to kick-off the annual event at The Liberty Shop in downtown. The cost in Maryland sales tax is about $1 million each year, Franchot said, but it’s worth it for the increased sales across the state, Catalina Righter of the Carroll County Times reports.

MO CO BANS ICE CO-OPERATION: Government agencies in Maryland’s most populous jurisdiction are now banned from cooperating with federal immigration raids or investigations, in what advocates say is the strongest action taken in support of undocumented immigrants in the Washington region, Rebecca Tan of the Post reports.

MO CO HOMEOWNERS PROTEST ZONING CHANGE: The group of 20 or so homeowners, many of them retirees, marched into Montgomery County Council headquarters in Rockville wielding handmade signs and binders stuffed with research. Their target: a zoning amendment that would loosen regulations for auxiliary dwelling units, or ADUs, allowing thousands more residents of Maryland’s most populous jurisdiction to transform garages, basements or detached structures into separate residences, Rebecca Tan of the Post reports.

PROFILE: MARC ELRICH: Bruce DePuyt of Maryland Matters writes that where other politicians would pop in, shake a few hands, give an upbeat (typically generic) speech, perhaps give an interview, and bolt, staff and security in tow, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich’s bag is more “let’s soak this in.” He says, “When I see somebody who’s done something, I want to know how they did it. …” His management theory, at least so far, includes the belief that he can’t have meaningful conversations with his department heads if he doesn’t know as much about their areas of expertise as they do.

AFTER SCANDAL, CITY COUNCIL BACKS TOUGHER DISCLOSURE LAW: The Baltimore City Council voted unanimously Monday to strengthen the city’s financial disclosure laws, the first reform measure to win approval from a package of bills proposed this spring amid the scandal over former Mayor Catherine Pugh’s sales of her self-published children’s books, Ian Duncan of the Sun reports.

GOOGLE SEEKS TO CAPITALIZE ON RANSOMWARE ATTACK: As Baltimore struggled to recover from a ransomware attack that brought its computer systems to a halt in May, a Google salesman and a lobbyist for the technology firm took the opportunity to renew a longstanding effort to lure the city away from its rival Microsoft, Ian Duncan reports for the Sun. Tom Ray, a Google salesman who works with state and local governments, sent an email on May 31 following up on a phone call with a top aide to Mayor Jack Young.

OPINION: SCHMOKE IS RIGHT ON CITY COLLEGE: In a column for his Political Maryland blog, Barry Rascovar writes that sometimes it is wise to listen to the voice of experience, in this case former Baltimore mayor, former law-school dean and current college president Kurt Schmoke. He’s proposing a way to dramatically improve the disconnected and ineffective public higher education situation for lower-income and working-class students in Baltimore by creating a City University of Baltimore, similar to what exists with much success in New York.

UM, BAKER TEAM UP FOR LEADERSHIP PROGRAM: The University of Maryland is working with former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III on a leadership program to help newly elected local government officials learn the ropes, Bruce DePuyt of Maryland Matters writes. A former state legislator who left office in December after two terms, Baker said the program will fill a void.

CARDIN ON BORDER TRIP: In the basement of a Baltimore church, U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D) shared on Monday observations from his recent trip to the southern border with immigrant service providers. Danielle Gaines of Maryland Matters writes that Cardin traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border last week with other Senate Democrats on a fact-finding mission. “What we saw were people that were desperate, that needed to leave because they had no choice,” Cardin told members of the Latino Provider Network. “They recognized the danger of the journey, but they felt they had no choice for their families.”