State Roundup, August 19, 2019

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HOGAN NIXES BIG TAX HIKES FOR KIRWAN: Gov. Larry Hogan said Saturday that he won’t support big tax increases to pay for a major education funding plan, the AP is reporting. Hogan, speaking at a conference of county officials, noted the concern local officials have expressed about the costs associated with proposals under consideration by a state commission on education. Hogan said the proposals would require “billions and billions more in mandated spending increases.”

  • House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) said Friday that she wants her colleagues to examine the full range of tax credits the state offers to see if any can be modified or rescinded, as lawmakers hunt for extra revenue to fund the education reform recommendations of the so-called Kirwan Commission, Josh Kurtz reports in Maryland Matters.
  • Hogan faulted the legislature for advancing “well-meaning but half-baked, fiscally irresponsible” proposals that could bankrupt the state. Hogan said fully funding the costs of the Kirwan blueprint, estimated at about $4 billion – half of which would be borne by the counties, half from the state – would require a 39% increase in the personal income tax, an 89% hike in the sales tax, and a 535% boost in property taxes. The plan would create an $18 billion state deficit, he said, and “a bruising” $6,200 tax hike for the average Maryland family over the next five years, Josh Kurtz reports for Maryland Matters.

STUDY URGES CAUTION ON WINDFALL FROM LEGAL POT TAXES: If Maryland decides to legalize marijuana — and that’s a big if — officials may have a difficult time figuring out how much money the state will bring in from taxing the drug, Pamela Wood of the Sun reports. Some states with legal marijuana have vastly underestimated the amount of tax revenue they would collect. Others overestimated revenues, forcing difficult budget decisions. All have grappled with making forecasts based on scant information, according to a new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

VOLUNTEER FIRE COMPANIES IN DIRE STRAITS: Will there be a fight for funding between the fire service and education reformers during the 2020 General Assembly session? Fire service representatives sounded the alarm about funding shortfalls in their firehouses at the MACo summer conference, Danielle Gaines of Maryland Matters reports. While education funding reformers are pushing for full implementation of pricey Kirwan Commission recommendations, staffing and funding shortages among volunteer fire companies statewide are worsening, advocates said.

PAYMENTS TO EXONEREES LAGGING: Ovetta Wiggins of the Post reports that nearly three dozen wrongly convicted felons have been exonerated over the past 30 years in Maryland, which like most other states allows them to be compensated for their time spent behind bars. But only nine exonerees have sought payment — and just three have received money. The most recent damages were awarded 15 years ago. The state lags far behind others in compensating those who were wrongly imprisoned, experts say. A spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said the Democratic-majority General Assembly needs to pass a bill establishing compensation standards before the Board of Public Works can act on requests.

PREAKNESS PROGRESS: “Substantial progress” has been made in the effort to keep the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Northwest Baltimore, according to a letter received by the Maryland Racing Commission from the team negotiating a possible deal. Holden Wilen of the Baltimore Business Journal writes that the Aug. 13 letter provided no further details beyond saying the team hopes to make recommendations “as to the ways and means to preserve the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico and year-round sustainable racing at Laurel Park.”

ELECTION FINANCE COMPLAINT SENT TO STATE PROSECUTOR: The Maryland State Board of Elections has forwarded a complaint alleging campaign finance violations in Gov. Larry Hogan’s 2018 reelection bid to the state prosecutor’s office, saying the scope of the allegations — involving “suspicious LLCs” — are outside the board’s authority, Ovetta Wiggins reports in the Post.

MD WARNS W.Va. ON MARC PAYMENTS: For many years, the state of West Virginia paid nothing for the MARC commuter rail service that every day carries hundreds of residents to jobs in Maryland and Washington, D.C. For the last two years, officials in the Mountaineer State have been warned that the gravy train would soon end, and that they had better compensate Maryland more fully for the six trains that MARC runs into West Virginia. But the West Virginia legislature has been unwilling to come up with the $3.4 million that Maryland is seeking to maintain the current schedule. Bruce DePuyt of Maryland Matters reports that now Maryland’s response is a steep reduction in service.

NOTES FROM MACo: Danielle Gaines and Josh Kurtz write about three topics in this roundup of MACo news in Maryland Matters: Gov. Hogan and Comptroller Franchot walking down the Ocean City Boardwalk and chatting with people; the proposed wind farm off of Ocean City; and Adrienne Jones’s path to the speakership.

JUDICIAL TRANSPARENCY: As Maryland takes steps toward full implementation of its new case management system, some state legislators plan to support or pursue future legislation to make judicial information more transparent, reports Leah Brennan for the Carroll County Times. In this year’s General Assembly session, Del. Robin Grammer Jr. introduced a bill that would have required the name of the person overseeing some form of judicial action or hearing — judges or magistrates — to appear in Maryland Judiciary Case Search results. It didn’t pass — but it could make a comeback.

OPINION: STATE NEEDS SURE PSYCHIATRIC CARE FOR KIDS: In an op-ed for the Sun, Eastern Shore nurse and mother Jeannine LeMieux tells her harrowing story of trying to get psychiatric care for her daughter. She writes, “There is a dire need across Maryland for child/adolescent psychiatric help for both inpatient facilities and outpatient counseling in rural areas. In April 2019, a white paper was released by the Maryland Health Care Commission Center for Health Care Facilities Planning and Development to inform the public about the state of Maryland’s acute psychiatric services.”

COMPLAINT FILED AGAINST HANDGUN BOARD: Pamela Wood of the Sun reports that a Delaware man has filed a complaint that the Maryland Handgun Permit Review Board improperly held part of a meeting behind closed doors last month. The Baltimore Sun reported last week that the handgun board held closed hearings on two requests for concealed-carry permits on July 22, even though the board’s staff warned that doing so might violate the state’s Open Meetings Act.

OPINION: MARYLAND’s LONG PATH TO WOMEN’s SUFFRAGE: Goucher history professor emeritus Jean H. Baker, in a fascinating op-ed for the Sun, writes about the long and sad history of Maryland and its Democratic legislature denying women the vote, at times using the argument that if white women got the vote, black women would also and that would be something to fear.

BAD YEAR FOR OYSTERS: The AP’s Julia Rentsch is reporting that people, aside from oyster researchers and farmers, likely won’t feel the impact for at least another 18 months. But, eventually, everyone will know just how bad a year it has been for Maryland oysters. Thanks to record levels of persistent rainfall throughout the bay watershed, salinity levels in the Chesapeake Bay have remained perilously low since May 2018. The absence of salt in the bay and its tributaries has been annihilating oyster spat production and oyster growth at hatcheries and farms around the region.

CARDIN CONFAB TURNS POLITICAL: In an unusually partisan tone for U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin’s MACo town halls, which usually focus on local issues and problem-solving, Cardin said Senate President Mitch McConnell has flouted Senate rules to squash debate and kill bills – and has been enabled by other Senate Republicans. Danielle Gaines of Maryland Matters reports that when asked what he was doing to “stop” McConnell – to a smattering of enthusiastic applause from the crowd – Cardin responded: “Supporting a lot of Democratic candidates next year.”

GRAPPLING WITH RACIAL INEQUITY: On a cool summer night, 200 people filed into a community center deep in the Maryland suburbs for an atypical town hall. On the agenda: race. Armed with Sharpies and poster boards, uniformed police officers, elected officials and students were asked to “take a deep, big cleansing breath” before sharing their experiences with racial inequity in Montgomery County. The disparities in this liberal, majority-minority suburb were glaring, reports Rebecca Tan for the Post.

VACCINES IN FREDERICK: With the start of school about two weeks away, parents are buying new shoes, getting the necessary supplies and bringing their children to the doctor for required vaccinations, Katryna Perera and Heather Mongilio report in the Frederick News-Post. All Frederick County Public Schools students are required to be immunized for the new school year, Jenifer Waters, health services specialist for FCPS, said in an email.

OPINION: FREDERICK & THE POWER OF SOLAR: The editorial board for the Frederick News-Post opines that Frederick County is beginning to realize the benefits of its project to build solar power arrays on vacant land at the county landfill, and we are excited at the glimpse of the future being offered here. The solar array, which was dedicated this month, was built on just 14 acres at the landfill, but it can generate almost 2 megawatts of power a day. That will supply nearly 20% of the county’s general building power needs.

DEATH: THE REV. CROSSE, POLITICAL TRAILBLAZER, DIES: The Rev. St. George I.B. Crosse III, an outspoken conservative pastor and civil rights activist who was the first African American to run for Baltimore sheriff and who served as an adviser to President Ronald Reagan at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and as special ambassador to his home country of Grenada, died Aug. 7. Colin Campbell of the Sun writes that the longtime Randallstown resident and Methodist preacher was 79. While his trailblazing political campaigns to become Baltimore’s first black sheriff, the city’s first black Republican comptroller and the first black 7th Congressional District representative were unsuccessful, Mr. Crosse paved the way for the African Americans who would eventually occupy those offices, said his wife.