Change in judicial elections rejected; healthy vending bill withdrawn

Four proposals to reform the process of selecting Circuit Court judges were killed Monday when the Judiciary Committee issued unfavorable reports. This is the latest failed attempt over two decades to prevent recently appointed judges from being knocked off the bench by challengers. Instead, they would run in “retention” elections as do the appellate court judges in which voters select “yes” or “no” on whether to retain them in office. In this year’s elections, two lawyers in Baltimore, including a City Council member, are challenging a slate of sitting judges. In Anne Arundel County, three lawyers are challenging a slate of four sitting judges.

Md. revenue estimates down slightly for coming year

The Maryland Board of Revenue Estimates on Wednesday decided to write down state revenue estimates for fiscal 2016 and 2017 by approximately $51 million from estimates made last December. State Comptroller Peter Franchot said the new estimates reflected weak sales throughout Maryland during the recent holiday season. Economic growth has continued to be stagnant in the last few months.

Md. voters back income tax cut, cigarette tax hike; Hogan still flying high; Senate race close

Maryland voters of all parties favor cutting the state income tax rate by 10% and raising the cigarette tax by $1 a pack, a new Gonzales Research poll found. Gov. Larry Hogan continues to gain high job approval ratings of almost 70%, with even a majority of Democrats approving his performance. The Democratic race to succeed Barbara Mikulski in the U.S. Senate continues to be neck and neck between Reps. Donna Edwards at 41% and Chris Van Hollen at 42%.

Large exemptions proposed on pension income

Believing senior citizens are fleeing Maryland due to high taxes on retirement income, Del. Karen Young, D-Frederick, is proposing to exempt as much as $75,000 on pension income. The bill, HB 311, which mirrors a proposal she introduced last year, would expand existing pension exemptions for eligible seniors and disabled Marylanders and would be phased in over seven years. The House Ways & Means Committee considered the bill on Tuesday.

Hogan to release budget — but he won’t be there

Gov. Larry Hogan will submit his fiscal 2017 budget to the legislature Wednesday, but he won’t be briefing reporters about it. Skipping a budget routine that goes back a dozen years or more, Hogan will not unveil his overall budget and the thick five-volume set of budget books that go with it in the governor’s formal reception room. That duty will be handled by Budget Secretary David Brinkley in his offices two blocks from the State House.

Rascovar: Hold off on Internet hotel tax

Among the most controversial bills the legislature will consider next week is a vetoed bill concerning a dispute between large hotel operators, like Bethesda-based Marriott and Rockville-based Choice Hotels, and Internet travel companies. The fight is over tax payments to the state by those Internet companies when they book in-state hotel rooms. Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr. vetoed this bill for the most sensible of reasons: Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot already is suing an Internet company, Travelocity, over what he claims is $6 million in unpaid taxes on those service fees between 2003 and 2011.

Hogan ‘can’t imagine how anyone could vote against’ proposed tax cuts

Tax cuts plans Gov. Larry Hogan offered Tuesday were so modest and mainstream that the worst a Democratic Party spokesman could say about them was that two copied proposals by Democrats and Hogan didn’t say how he would pay for them. The $480 million in tax relief spread out over five years targets tax breaks for new manufacturing, businesses, retirees, and families making less than $53,000.

Hogan draws line for legislators on next year’s budget

In an unusual preview of next year’s budget not due for weeks, Gov. Larry Hogan drew the line for legislators already planning to spend more money than he wants. Hogan said he will spend every dollar the law forces him to do through legislative mandates and formulas, but he won’t spend any more even if the legislature tries to force him by “fencing off” extra spending, much as they did on $68 million in school aid last year.